After 40 years my wife and I have quit the National Trust 

By Max Hastings for the Daily Mail

Published: 19:50 EDT, 13 September 2017 | Updated: 19:54 EDT, 13 September 2017

The National Trust is making headlines again. 

We say ‘again’ with a certain weariness, because in recent years an organisation that was once so boringly virtuous that it could have worn a halo nowadays gets into as much trouble as a Bake Off judge in Nazi fancy-dress.

The cause of the latest row is an online survey of its 65,000 volunteers, which invites them to describe their own ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’, offering multiple choices of transgender, gay, bisexual, lesbian, straight or prefer- not-to-say.

Some of the public-spirited people who give their time to support the work of the National Trust are dismayed — even disgusted — that they should be asked such an insanely irrelevant question.

An online survey of The National Trust's 65,000 volunteers invites them to describe their own ¿gender identity¿ and ¿sexual orientation¿
An online survey of The National Trust's 65,000 volunteers invites them to describe their own ¿gender identity¿ and ¿sexual orientation¿

An online survey of The National Trust's 65,000 volunteers invites them to describe their own ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual orientation’

A spokesman for the organisation says its purpose is to ‘make the Trust a more relevant and accessible place to volunteer’, because some gender groups are under-represented.

The survey, the spokesman emphasises, is entirely voluntary. Its findings will be collated without names attached.

It is, nonetheless, hard for some of us not to gape.

The Trust exists to preserve great buildings, landscapes and estates for the benefit of future generations. For more than a century it has fulfilled this role with wonderful success.

Insulting

However, under its outgoing chief executive, former civil servant Dame Helen Ghosh, the mood music from the NT has changed dramatically.

Its traditional priorities of emphasising beauty and heritage have been overtaken by a preoccupation with social engineering and, explicitly, ‘accessibility’.

This is a grisly word, but one much in favour with those who insist that rap music is in no way inferior to Beethoven.

At the coalface it seems to mean that if insufficient people, especially those from minorities, like an old place the way it is, steps must be taken to rebrand, refurbish, remodel, repaint and recycle it in a form that might find favour with new readers, viewers, and visitors. 

However, under its outgoing chief executive, former civil servant Dame Helen Ghosh, the mood music from the NT has changed dramatically.
However, under its outgoing chief executive, former civil servant Dame Helen Ghosh, the mood music from the NT has changed dramatically.

However, under its outgoing chief executive, former civil servant Dame Helen Ghosh, the mood music from the NT has changed dramatically.

Dame Helen has been an impassioned populariser who — for instance — replaced traditional Easter Egg Hunts at Trust properties with ‘Cadbury Egg Hunts’.

This wording is, of course, designed to appease those who deplore regarding Easter as a Christian festival because it might offend other religions.

Gender seems a big issue on Dame Helen’s agenda. At the NT’s Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, volunteers were recently instructed to wear Gay Pride badges. Those who refused were reported to have been relegated to back-office chores.

There have also been serial rows about the Trust’s management of some properties where it has wilfully breached conditions imposed by former owners surrendering their ancestral estates to its care.

My wife and I this year cancelled our membership, after 40-odd years, not in anger, but because we felt unwilling to continue giving money to an organisation that wishes to use it to pursue zealously an obsessively politically correct social agenda, rather than to protect its great historic properties.

If we had not taken that step already, we should have done so this week, because the new NT’s volunteers’ survey seems both insulting and silly.

It invites speculation that when Dame Helen reads the findings, she will wag a wise finger and say: ‘Ah, I see that we need a lesbian recruitment drive at Petworth!’. Or call a meeting to discuss how to find more transgender volunteers for Hidcote.

The only possible defence of this nonsense is to acknowledge that a host of other institutions are going the Ghosh way, in pursuing an obsession with gender issues.

Scarcely a day goes by without some university debate about ‘sexual identity challenges’. 

The Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex banned girls from wearing skirts and introduced a gender neutral uniform to accommodate transgender students
The Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex banned girls from wearing skirts and introduced a gender neutral uniform to accommodate transgender students

The Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex banned girls from wearing skirts and introduced a gender neutral uniform to accommodate transgender students

A school in Lewes, East Sussex, has made news by banning girls from wearing skirts, and one in Wales spent tens of thousands on gender-neutral loos more suited to a Las Vegas nightclub.

Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants the law changed to make it effortless for people to change the gender on their birth certificate.

Among under-30s, there is far fiercer debate about the case for those gender-neutral toilets than about funding the NHS, national security, countering Muslim extremism or reducing the terrifying national debt.

Pressure

Some of us find this dismaying because it reflects a bizarre sense of priorities.

It is entirely welcome that the centuries-old persecution of homosexuals has been brought to an end — in the Twenties one of my own great-uncles was imprisoned for being gay; equality of the sexes, acceptance of sexual preferences, is taken for granted everywhere except in a few bastions of conservatism.

But some of us old prigs ask: though mankind always has and always will talk obsessively about sex, do we need to bang on so much about individuals’ sexuality?

Now that the gay rights battle has been fought and rightly won, how many people really want to define themselves by a sexual preference, rather than by what sort of human being they are?

I yearn to open a magazine or switch on TV without hearing a hymn of praise to the joys of being gay. I do not doubt that those joys are very great, but they seem no more interesting than for me to eulogise how much I like women.

And so to transgender — yet another of the NT’s multiple choices for its volunteers.

There seems no possible objection to adults making such a choice if they genuinely feel they have been born in the wrong body.

But it seems insane to allow, never mind encourage, the very young to take the huge step of changing gender. As adolescents we are all, by definition, hopelessly muddled about all sorts of stuff.

Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants the law changed to make it effortless for people to change the gender on their birth certificate
Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants the law changed to make it effortless for people to change the gender on their birth certificate

Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants the law changed to make it effortless for people to change the gender on their birth certificate

Many teenagers go through phases of favouring one form of sexuality, only to change their minds a year or two later. This is normal.

What does not seem normal is for the medical profession to acquiesce in very young people changing their gender, before they are old enough to vote.

Yet there is immense political and social pressure to support such a policy, to encourage the young to consider a gender change much as they might a new hairstyle.

The Gender Identity Clinic at the Tavistock and Portman Foundation Trust in London saw just 100 teenagers when it opened in 2009, but last year interviewed more than 2,000.

The Lewes school speaks of supporting the ‘small but steadily increasing number of transgender pupils’ as if it was inviting applause for raising its quota of Oxbridge entrants.

It was once observed of the pundit Malcolm Muggeridge that he embraced Lord Longford’s Seventies campaign for Christian virtue only when he became too old to continue a lifelong career of adultery.

Likewise, it is risky for anyone over a certain age to express an opinion related to sex, because it is apparent to our children and grandchildren that we are past being stakeholders in this matter.

Scrutiny

So I plead guilty to belonging to a generation that regards it as common sense to suggest that the human race gets along better by sticking to going to bed with each other, perhaps even having an occasional shot at reproduction, rather than to rabbit on about the merits of multiple sexual choices.

Next March, Dame Helen is to become Master of Balliol College, Oxford. It seems unclear how her stormy reign at the Trust qualifies her for this new role, but presumably she plans to make the poor place more ‘accessible’.

Balliol’s hapless students may escape scrutiny of exam results by their new custodian. But in the current obsessional mood, they seem likely to face some searching interrogations about their sex lives.

 

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