At the National Trust’s annual general meeting last week, the voting was much more unusual than the public will have learnt from media reports. In most resolutions, the numbers voting exceeded 100,000. In past years, the figures have been lower than 40,000. The reason for this high turnout was the controversies of the past 18 months. Motions about the erosion of curatorial expertise and the ill treatment of Trust volunteers would have won easily had not the chairman exercised the right to use the discretionary proxy votes which the Trust’s curious governance permits. Without these, the rebel resolutions would have been more than 15,000 votes ahead. In achieving these results, the member organisation, Restore Trust, was important because it managed, via its website, to air the wide range of anxieties about current NT management which many members feel. Three of the six candidates it endorsed were also elected to the NT Council. Woke candidates did not fare well. In their speeches, the acting chairman, Orna Turner, and the director-general, Hilary McGrady, did make a vague but welcome concession by saying that tendentious interpretations of history would not be forced upon visitors and that the Trust should ‘avoid generalisations’; but both managed to refer to the notorious slavery and ‘colonialism’ report without mentioning what it had been about and where it went wrong. ‘I love this country,’ declared Ms McGrady, sounding a bit like Sir Keir Starmer trying to reclimb the ‘red wall’. This year, a lot of people disgusted by the report and other denigrations of former owners and existing buildings left the Trust in protest. If they rejoined now and were active, they could help restore it to what it should be.
The modern managements of public bodies and charities such as the National Trust are expert users of euphemistic terms.