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Charities like the National Trust are told to avoid wokery and culture wars – by their own UK chief 

Charities such as the National Trust should avoid being dragged into culture wars about ‘wokedom’ because they risk damaging the entire sector, the head of the Charity Commission has said.

The intervention by Baroness Stowell of Beeston follows the report in last week’s Mail on Sunday about a group of more than 25 MPs who called for the commission to withdraw the trust’s charitable status because it had committed to ‘attacking Britain’s heritage’.

The Common Sense Group called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to intervene after the trust published a review of the colonial links of some of its properties, including Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s former home in Kent.

Charities such as the National Trust should avoid being dragged into culture wars about ‘wokedom’ because they risk damaging the entire sector, said Baroness Stowell (pictured)

In an article on this page, Baroness Stowell, the commission’s chairwoman, today urges charities not to be drawn into rows about ‘woke’ revisionism – particularly given the devastation wrought on the sector by the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘If you want to improve lives and strengthen communities through charity, you need to leave party politics and the culture wars out of it,’ she writes.

‘Whoever is tempted to use charities as another front on which to wage broader political struggles should be careful. 

The Common Sense Group called for Prime Minister to intervene after trust published review of the colonial links of some of its properties (pictured: Winston Churchill)

The Common Sense Group called for Prime Minister to intervene after trust published review of the colonial links of some of its properties (pictured: Winston Churchill) 

Many people seek out charities as an antidote to politics, not a continuation of it, and these people have the right to be heard too.’

Baroness Stowell adds that charities ‘need all the support they can get to recover from the pandemic and to play their full part in helping the country to do the same. 

Now would be the worst possible moment to jeopardise that goodwill by getting drawn into the culture wars’.

The commission is investigating the trust after it published a 115-page report on ‘Connections Between Colonialism And Properties Now In The Care Of The National Trust, Including Links With Historic Slavery’.

The review of the colonial links of some of its properties included Chartwell, Winston Churchill's former home in Kent (pictured)

The review of the colonial links of some of its properties included Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s former home in Kent (pictured) 

Sir John Hayes, who leads the Common Sense Group, said the MPs had written to Mr Johnson because ‘the purpose of those who are custodians of our heritage is to protect and promote it, not to reinterpret or rewrite history’.

He added: ‘It may be that some of these people are artless and some are sinister, but assuming that most of it is a kind of senselessness, they have to understand that all we are now is a product of all that has gone before: good, bad and ugly.

‘To attempt to sanitise history is to not only disown all the heroes and heritage it is their mission to guard implicitly, but it is also to deny the reality of what Britain is, and who Britons are.’

The MPs also criticised ‘wokery’ at museums – such as the National Maritime Museum, which has been re-evaluating Admiral Nelson’s status as a national hero.

The National Trust insists that exploring the history of the places it looks after sits within its charitable objectives. 

If you want to improve lives through charity, leave political fights out of it, writes Charity Commission chair BARONESS STOWELL

The pandemic has shown how important charity is but also how fragile it can be. 

Both mean we have to be very clear about why charity has a special place in our nation’s hearts.

It’s a chance to leave our differences behind, not an opportunity to carry on the political struggle by other means. 

There’s more than one way to help those in need, but if you want to improve lives and strengthen communities through charity, you need to leave party politics and the culture wars out of it.

There are many reasons why each of us choose to support the different charitable causes we do – the impact of a tragic disaster on people in our own community; the effect of wars or natural disasters on innocent people we don’t know overseas; ongoing social deprivation we can’t ignore; or research into a disease that took someone we loved.

We value the outlet charities provide for us to express our own best instincts, to be involved in something bigger and more important than just ourselves. 

This is a powerful unifying human force.

It has to be said that not all charities attract universal support for their cause.

Even so, all can campaign in support of the causes they exist to fight for (or against) – as long as they don’t stray into party politics by doing so. 

The law is clear on that – and the job of the Charity Commission is to ensure that charities stick to it.

But what we’ve seen in the past few years is the growth of new divisions which don’t neatly respect party lines. 

Issues like Brexit; the exercise and limits of free speech; the root causes of inequality; or how best to tell the story of British history. They are all defining politics at home and around the world.

These disputes and others like them are often linked and it is those with the strongest views either way who tend to dominate the discussion, even though they may be outnumbered by those who have no firm opinions.

For charities to survive and thrive in this environment, particularly after this most difficult of years, it is even more important that they demonstrate sensitivity and respect for everyone.

For people who are on both sides of some of these arguments and on none.

Whoever is tempted to use charities as another front on which to wage broader political struggles should be careful. 

Many people seek out charities as an antidote to politics, not a continuation of it – and these people have the right to be heard too.

That’s why the Charity Commission places such importance on the public interest. 

We know that the way a charity goes about its business is as important as the difference it makes. Why? Because the public tells us so.

After some serious scandals in recent years which dented public trust in charity, we have seen some evidence of a reversal in that decline, at a time when more people are becoming aware of what the Charity Commission is trying to do on their behalf.

The lift in public confidence cannot come quickly enough for charities up and down the country which need all the support they can get to recover from the pandemic and to play their full part in helping the country to do the same.

Now would be the worst possible moment to jeopardise that goodwill by getting drawn into the culture wars, on any side of the argument.


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