Starmer defends the National Trust’s ‘woke’ agenda

Sir Keir makes his point
Sir Keir makes his point - Leon Neal/Getty Images
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Sir Keir Starmer on Monday defends the National Trust against accusations of “woke” behaviour as he claims the Tories have gone to “war” with the charity.

The Labour leader accuses the Government of getting “so tangled up in culture wars of their own making” that they have ended up turning on the same organisations they “once regarded with respect” in a “desperate” attempt to cling to power.

In a major speech on his vision for the voluntary sector, Sir Keir tells an audience of faith, charity and community leaders that the Conservatives have undermined the “proud spirit of service in this country” by “trying to find woke agendas” in Britain’s valued ­institutions.

In particular, he accuses the Tories of demeaning the valuable work of the National Trust by taking a “divisive” approach led by the “politics of self-preservation”.

He also claims the party’s rhetoric on the small boats crisis has helped “demonise” the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), which had the late Queen as a patron for 70 years.

In recent years, the National Trust has faced growing anger over a series of decisions that have prompted claims it is following a “woke agenda”.

Bosses have been accused of “dumbing down” by removing important items from display and turning historic homes into “theme parks” designed for children.

There was also a significant backlash after it emerged Christian ­holidays had been excluded from the trust’s “inclusivity and wellbeing” ­calendar.

Last year, Lee Anderson, then a deputy Tory chairman, lashed out at the charity for publishing its own “manifesto” calling for “concerted action” on climate commitments, insisting: “Brits expect the National Trust to protect our heritage, not lecture them on net zero.”

In 2022, Conservative MP Andrew Murrison set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group to scrutinise the trust, citing “recent controversies” around its ­“strategic direction”.

Links to slavery and colonialism

And in 2020, the Daily Express reported that a powerful group of Tory MPs were demanding the charity’s ­status be reconsidered after it ­published its properties’ links to slavery and colonialism.

The Conservative Party’s official historian, Lord Lexden, also said the institution engaged in an “act of folly” by issuing the “tendentious report”, which singled out 93 sites connected to historical figures involved in the British empire.

Addressing the Civil Society Summit in central London Sir Keir says: “The Tories seem set on sabotaging civil society to save their own skins.

“They got themselves so tangled up in culture wars of their own making, that instead of working with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – an organisation the late Queen was patron of for 70 years – to find real solutions to stop the small boats, their rhetoric has helped demonise them.

“Instead of working with the National Trust so more people can learn about – and celebrate – our culture and our history, they’ve managed to demean their work. In its desperation to cling on to power, at all costs. The Tory Party is trying to find woke agendas in the very civic institutions they once regarded with respect.

“Let me tell you, waging a war on the proud spirit of service in this country isn’t leadership. It’s desperate. It’s divisive. It’s damaging. It comes to something when the Tories are at war with the National Trust. That’s what happens when politics of self-preservation prevail over commitment to service.”

Sir Keir also uses his speech to say a Labour government would create a “society of service”, bringing “a new focus on those who build the bonds that connect us, the communities that nurture us, the institutions that support families and provide a bridge between the state and the market”.

He adds: “In a society of service, doing the right thing will be rewarded. Working hard will pay off for people. And building caring, compassionate communities will make our country stronger, more prosperous, fairer for everyone.”

The Tories reacted by accusing Labour of “sniping from the sidelines without putting forward any serious plan”.

Later this week, Sir Keir will tour the country to talk to people about his plan to make Britain’s streets safe.

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