Harry Mount

Starmer is wrong to defend the National Trust

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (Credit: Getty Images)

Keir Starmer is drawing up his battle-lines for the next election. First, he came for the public schools, pledging to whack VAT on school fees. Now he’s going for the traditionalist wing of National Trust members. 

In a speech today, he accuses the Tories of ‘waging a war’ on charities and civic society. He claims the Conservatives have denigrated the National Trust by accusing it of pursuing a ‘woke’ agenda: ‘In its desperation to cling onto power, at all costs, the Tory party is trying to find woke agendas in the very civic institutions they once regarded with respect.’

The National Trust was once a byword for high-minded thought

So that’s how Starmer is dividing the electorate for the general election. He wants to attract the middle ground by attacking the supposedly crusty, traditional wing. It makes crude, electoral sense. Still, his attack on the Tories is by proxy an attack on the traditionalist members of the Trust – in particular the members of Restore Trust (I am one, incidentally), who deplore what has happened to their beloved institution.

Starmer claims today that: ‘It comes to something when the Tories are at war with the National Trust.’

In fact, we Restore Trust members are at war with the dumbing-down, infantilising people who’ve been running the Trust for the last 20 years.

The Trust used to be a byword for high-minded thought, with an eye for fine, aesthetic presentation at its exceptional country houses. But, over those last two decades, there has been a catastrophic intellectual decline. Captions in displays have appalling spelling and grammatical mistakes. Facts are dispensed in favour of dim, kiddy-friendly opinions. And the Trust has increasingly become a political organisation, wading in on climate change, colonial history, gay rights and feminism.

A fire destroyed Clandon Park House near Guildford, in 2015, but the National Trust opted against a simple rebuilding job (Credit: Getty images)

It’s completely right that the Trust should address, say, the slavery connections in the houses it owns.

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