National Trust election candidate ‘not consulted’ about ‘anti-woke’ backing

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

A retired conservationist who was named by an ‘anti-woke’ insurgent group as a candidate it was backing for the coming National Trust elections says he was never consulted by the campaigners and is at odds with them.

Michael Goodhart, 67, told the Guardian he was shocked to see his name topping a list of six candidates backed by Restore Trust because he did not support its aims ahead of what is tipped to be a turbulent National Trust AGM.

“It just shows what a shallow organisation they are that they are putting forward recommendations of this nature without contacting those involved,” he said.

The National Trust warned this week of the damage it faces from what it calls an ideological campaign waged against it by self-styled “anti-woke” insurgents whom the charity has accused of seeking to stoke divisions.

In contrast to the Restore Trust ‘rebels,’ Goodhart said that he strongly supported the National Trust over a report the charity published last year showing connections between 93 of its historic places and colonialism and slavery.

Since then, NT has run “colonial countryside” themed exhibitions at some properties and amended the labelling on collections.

Goodhart said that The Twisted Threads of Polly Freeman, the latest children’s book by his wife, Pippa Goodhart, was about a child fighting to find her identity and freedom as she is passed from workhouse to Quarry Bank Cotton Mill near Manchester in 1838.

“I feel very strongly that we should not be hiding these stories like this and if that’s what it means to be ‘woke’ then I very much support that idea.”

Goodhart’s candidacy for one of the six vacant positions on the NT’s governing council was motivated more by his strong belief that the charity had enough funds and a stream of donations to mitigate or ensure that it did not engage in cuts that had affected volunteers and other work.

The Trust was prompted to speak out earlier this week as members raised concerns about a range of “extreme” positions taken by individuals involved in Restore Trust.

The group, which has no connection to The Restore Trust, a Bristol-based non-profit, has spoken of building up a “fighting fund” of tens of thousands of pounds and is also now using paid-for social media adverts to try to influence the election.

The trust – one of Britain’s biggest land owners – also fears for its carbon neutral policies in the face of the challenge by the Restore Trust (RT), which it says is waging a culture war on a number of fronts.

RT’s directors include a financier who has backed a leading climate-sceptic lobby group and currently chairs another.

Members of the charity have also expressed particular concern about RT’s endorsement of Stephen Green, the leader of a Christian fundamentalist lobby group who accuses the NT leadership of being “obsessed with LGBT issues”.

Like Goodhart, Green has said that he has had no connection with Restore Trust, but in contrast said he was grateful for the group’s support.

The so-called ‘culture war’ issues which Restore Trust have become involved in are expected to come to a head at the NT’s AGM in Harrogate later this month. Voting has already been taking place online.

The charity’s director of communications, Celia Richardson, said in a blog posted this week on its website that the trust’s history had been replete with internal debates.

“They’ve often reflected the social issues of the day. In the past, there have been disagreements about everything from nuclear weapons to nudist beaches, badger culling, windfarms and even our flapjack recipe,” she added.

“For many decades that simple, uniting goal has gathered multitudes and enabled them to overcome often big differences of ideology.”

A spokesperson for Restore Trust said it had been advised not to contact Goodhart, “as he signed an agreement with the NT not to promote himself, so we did not want to put him at risk of disqualification.”

“Like Mr Goodhart, we do not wish aspects of history to be hidden, but want to see it explained in a balanced and accurate and scholarly way,” he added. “Having said that RT believe that Mr Goodhart and the other candidates have what it takes to hold the Trustees to account.”

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