National Trust rebels demand veto on new chairman

National Trust members should be given a veto over the appointment of the new chairman to stop the charity’s board hiring a political campaigner, rebels are demanding.

The four leaders of rebel group Restore Trust said the National Trust should ensure the next chairman was subject to a "confirmatory vote" at the annual general meeting this autumn.

The call has been backed by Conservative MPs concerned that the Trust has lost touch with its core base of support in the wake of the publication of its report linking its properties with colonialism and slavery.

However, the demand was refused by the National Trust on Thursday night, which insisted its ruling council would make any final decision.

The chairman of the Trust is an unpaid role and is the most senior of the charity’s 50,000 volunteers, looking after the charity’s 5.6 million members.

Tim Parker, who announced his resignation in May after seven years, had overseen a series of controversies culminating in claims the Trust has been taken over by a "woke agenda".

The announcement of his resignation came after Restore Trust unveiled plans for a motion of no confidence at this year’s annual meeting, although the Trust insisted he resigned before the motion was made public.

In a letter to The Telegraph, the leaders of Restore Trust said: "This is a vitally important appointment which requires the very best candidate. The criteria by which this post is to be filled should be a matter for discussion with members and heritage professionals.

"The National Trust now needs someone at the helm who understands and cares about the conservation of buildings and landscapes and who will not allow political campaigning to distract the charity from its purpose."

The group of members – Cornelia van der Poll, Jack Hayward, Neil Bennett and Neil Record – added that since Mr Parker’s announcement there had been "silence".

"There has been no announcement of how his replacement will be selected. The post has not been advertised in any way or form and there is no apparent application procedure." 

The group said: "The Trust is at a critical point in its history. It has lost the confidence of many of its members and volunteers, staff morale has sunk to new lows, and both the quality of its work and its finances have suffered grievously.

"This is a vitally important appointment which requires the very best candidate. The criteria by which this post is to be filled should be a matter for discussion with members and heritage professionals.

"The National Trust now needs someone at the helm who understands and cares about the conservation of buildings and landscapes and who will not allow political campaigning to distract the charity from its purpose.

"We call on the National Trust’s Trustees and members of the Council to make this an open appointment process, advertise the post widely, and make their selection criteria clear. Only this way will the best candidate emerge.

"As the National Trust is a membership organisation, we also call on the Council and the Board of Trustees to make their appointment conditional on a confirmatory vote at the next annual meeting."

Trust needs a leader who is not ‘all soundbites and trendy opinions’

A Restore Trust spokesman added: “The National Trust needs a new broom, a chair who can transform an organisation in crisis and has the confidence of volunteers and members.

"It needs someone who really cares about Britain’s heritage, not another marketeer, who is all soundbites, John Lewis kitsch, and trendy opinions.”

Andrew Murrison MP, a former government minister and critic of the National Trust’s recent policies, supported the call. He told The Telegraph: "National Trust members should have a meaningful vote on the chairman who will be steering the ship."

The National Trust, however, insisted that its new chairman would be a matter for its ruling council, which comprised members "who have a range of expertise in everything from education and agriculture to nature and the built environment".

The successful candidate will be selected by a nominations committee, chaired by "senior member" Paul Roberts, and then signed off by the 36-strong council.

Half of the council are elected by National Trust members and half are from organisations which have a connection to the Trust.

The nomination committee has already started working looking for a new chairman. A firm of headhunters is being hired by the National Trust to help with the search for the role, which will be publicly advertised, it said.

Asked if the National Trust would ensure that the new chairman would not be a political campaigner, the spokesman said: "We are a charity, not a political campaigning organisation."

The news came as The Spectator magazine reported the National Trust has a page on its internal website referencing Black Lives Matter in the title.

At last November’s virtual annual meeting, Mr Parker had come under fire after he described Black Lives Matter, which in the UK has called on the Government to "defund the police", as a "human rights movement with no party-political affiliations".

A Trust spokesman said on Thursday night: "Staff have access to material on the intranet if they are interested in learning about how to support colleagues affected by racism and discrimination.”

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