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Protesting too much

Simon Jenkins has written in the Spectator about Owen Paterson's comments about the green blob. He claims that the National Trust, the organisation he chairs, is so diverse in its membership that nobody could possibly drive it to support a political agenda.

It is no self-appointed, let alone globe-trotting, lobby. It is four million members who are unlikely to agree on anything beyond a car park and a cup of tea. On badgers, foxes, turbines, fracking, high-speed rail or third runways, the trust embraces every view under the sun. On politics it is a many-headed hydra, not a blob.

I don't know about you, but I find this almost entirely unconvincing. As I note here from time to time, the policy positions taken up by organisations are almost always a function of whatever clique happens to be in control at time. I'm sure the fellows of the Royal Society cover a multitude of views, but the policy positions are that of the millennarians at the helm and noone else.

The National Trust is no different. Take this 2007 statement as an example:

[T]he National Trust is hoping to become a new green army. To mark membership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland reaching 3.5 million - equivalent to the population of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield (Britain's four largest cities after London) - the trust yesterday declared that it wants to become "the largest green movement in the world".

In what the the conservation charity calls one of the most fundamental shifts in its 103-year history, the trust announced the intention to mobilise this vast public support "to drive conservation and quality of life agendas, and in particular to combat climate change".

It may well be a many-headed hydra, but it's a hydra which the green blob has on a very tight leash.

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Reader Comments (44)

Simon Jenkins, like so many on the left side, simply denies reality when confronted with the truth.

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

This is a straw man argument from Jenkins. It is quite clear from Paterson's original green blob article that he is referring to Greenpeace, FoE and the Green Party, not the National Trust.

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I recall reading that that was exactly what did happen to the National Trust over twenty years ago when it was infiltrated by anti fox hunting protesters. [Not sure where I now stand on the matter.]

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Maybe I acquired the wrong message from Paterson's piece. He was talking about what faced him when he entered the post. The internal put it mildly. That to me meant Civil Service and that should be impartial. If its no longer impartial then it should be made to be.

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

A broader point: I'm not sure what Simon Jenkins believes, but many obviously feel that green issues – and climate change in particular – are non-political, or pan-political. A universal truth that we all have to embrace. Hence the infusion of our schools with all the green army stuff we heard about earlier in the year.

On that point, too, does anyone else with small children find the prevalence of environmental messages on children's TV, esp. CCBC and CBeebies, disturbing?

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Furniss

I agree with Paul Matthews, Simon Jenkins seems quite a credible advocate to me. The National Trust ( and I am not a member) is a multi faceted organisation, to which conservation takes many forms. The real problem is Fo E and Greenpeace who have completely lost the green plot.

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterTrefjon

The NT definitely did move in the gren bling direction some years ago, to the point where I almost discontinued membership - fortunately they seem to have moved back from that position in the past few years to concentrate on their original core activitiy of protecting places and heritage.

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterWoodsy42

Methinks he doth protest too much.

If you think the cap fits Simon, it probably does.

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered Commenterclovis marcus

I agree the NT oversight would love to move in evangelical green circles as much as possible, but the membership will act as a check due to the fundamental dependency on subscriptions. NT visitors are generally middle class and socially conservative and will not tolerate subscriptions being frittered away on such issues.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Smith

My memory is that the NT contradicted the explicit wishes of people who bequeathed it land, and banned hunting.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

My family joined the NT in order to be able to visit NT sites while on holiday. I have no interest in combating climate change so, I suppose, that he is technically correct. I'm happy that I got to play Bach on a Steinway grand and also on a pipe organ.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

There is no doubt that those who run the NT are greenies, just like many of the big organisations, such as RSPB, RSPCA etc. They are intent on making the NT properties "carbon neutral", by installing all the renewable hogwash. They are in league with a green energy company:

We’re working hard to reduce our use of non-renewable fuels so the special places we care for can become as sustainable as possible. With a little help from our partners Good Energy, and lots of hard work at our various energy saving projects, such as the electric waterwheel at Aberdulais Falls, we’re hoping to meet our green energy targets by 2020.

The members have no say in what they do.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:17 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Jenkins is either a liar or writing from a position of profound ignorance. As an NT member I can assure him that I have absolutely no account taken of my views and that I am insulted and patronised whenever I visit one of their properties to be assaulted by just about every flavour of 'Green' propaganda, from the imaginary benefits of 'organic' food onward.

It is also a ridiculously overpriced membership and I am convinced that this cost is to support not so much the properties but the self-promoting cabal of smug, young metropolitans who have seized control of the organisation and who use it to promote their Guardianista liifestyle beliefs.

To its credit, the NT has opposed the cultural massacre threatened by the planned subsidy farm off the South Downs coast but for the rest it is indistinguishable from all those other once worthy bodies now wholly owned by the soft (and not so soft) Left - the RSPCA, RSPB, the Red Cross and so on.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterUncle Badger

On that point, too, does anyone else with small children find the prevalence of environmental messages on children's TV, esp. CCBC and CBeebies, disturbing?

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Furniss

I'm sure I would, if I still had small children.

Maybe I can offer some crumbs of comfort though. My kids were among the first wave of those subjected to green propaganda and I remember vividly trying to explain that there were far more interesting phenomena in science than the theoretical effects of CO2 on the planet.

The reassuring thing is that most normal kids have very healthy reactions to bullshit and propaganda and mine have now grown into adults with no permanent damage.

For every one who grows up into a fully-programmed, mini-Lewandowsky green shirt - there will be a hundred like mine who, later, laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Hope that helps.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:29 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

People like that clown Jenkins are the main reason I am no longer a member of the NT.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

If the NT are installing various renewable energy projects at their sites then they will gain first hand knowledge of how well these things work.

"...most normal kids have very healthy reactions to bullshit and propaganda..."

My seventeen year old daughter is worryingly cynical.

Aug 8, 2014 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Despite the blob, the main problem that confronts us is that the majority of the UK councils are increasingly against progress of any sort. House prices are a far worse problem than energy prices and that is due to greeny planning laws built into the firmament since 1947.

By the way this green blob has taken over the CBI and the IMechE too. We just have to face the fact that pretending to be greener than your neighbour is trendy. Since being greener usually costs us a lot extra dosh, few in reality walk the walk unless forced to. It's a game of green gesture politics and hypocrisy.

Aug 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The National Trust = Extreme Ancestor Worship

Why the National Trust should be abolished:

1) The National Trust keeps land prices and rents high by preventing new development;

2) The National Trust has turned Britain into a giant open air house museum and nature park. This benefits competitor nations, like the U.S.A.

3) The National Trust has fossilised the nation and prevented new industries and innovation. It has frozen landscapes in time.

4) The National Trust’s dogmatic conservation mania means altruistic sentiments can only be expressed by conserving the past. For example, last year 70,494 volunteers worked for the National Trust. What if those man hours were put to better use building a modern dynamic future?

I don’t want to live in a museum dedicated to extreme ancestor worship - they are not my ancestors anyway - and I don’t want to conserve monuments to a bunch of thugs, plutocrats and murderous monarchs. So tear down those archaic, crumbling walls!

Aug 8, 2014 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterFay

@ Fay

What a philistine you are! It sounds as if you would be perfectly happy to live in some soulless concrete jungle such as a tower block in Tower Hamlets.

Aug 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Talking of green blobs... has anyone else followed the Greenpeace-boss-flies-to-work scandal?

Even the saintly Guardian covered the story about how their Amsterdam boss Pascal Husting flew in from his home in Luxembourg - flights paid from Greenpeace funds.

They issued this weird non-apology to the dolphins and pandas killed by the flights ...

"’s a really tough one. Was it the right decision to allow him to use air travel to try to balance his job with the needs of his family for a while?"

"For me, it feels like it gets to the heart of a really big question. What kind of compromises do you make in your efforts to try to make the world a better place?

Sorry, but the dolphins and pandas are already dead, mate. Guess they had to "destroy the planet to save it".

The Amsterdam staff don't seem to like him - all but their boss signed another odd document

"...The lack of an appropriate external response is seriously undermining the campaign, mobilization and fundraising work our organization is doing.
We find it shocking that our International Programme Director has been commuting by plane and that there was an agreement made between you both about it, even though this goes against the official Greenpeace code of conduct. In your positions you should have the moral compass to know this crosses the line of what is acceptable, and you should also have the understanding that this would create a scandal if discovered by the media.

All very whining - not a single word about the damage to the environment - it's all about their reputation and their fund-raising and diddums they got pwned on Twitter. At least they weren't stuck at the South Pole without peanut and banana smoothies like that hapless hipster at New Year.

Aug 8, 2014 at 1:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

@Fay - My thoughts exactly!

@Ray - The NT would preserve the concrete jungle too.

I would prefer to live in an environment that is constantly changing and keeping up to date with society around it. If that means that old buildings that are no longer of use (and that includes farms which are basically outdoor factories so are a virtual building) get knocked down and new buildings that do have a use are built in their place then good.

Aug 8, 2014 at 1:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterSadButMadLad

There was a time (still is?) - when ambitious bureaucrats seeking to advance themselves were grasping greedily, but not inspecting closely the new shiny things proffered by the Greenies. The fashionable green-speak of sustainability, renewables and carbon neutrality offered a way to tread a fresh and upward career path - NT office wallahs and entryists set about exploiting this new operational paradigm.... as others above have pointed out - so have a raft of other people - who on the face of it - should know better.

Simon Jenkins is either willfully ignorant - or is being wholly dishonest about the policies in place at NT - given that he's staff at GMG - I know which explanation I prefer.

Greenie twaddle has become an unassailable catechism of management - to voice doubts about it - as one senior civil servant said to me some time back - is akin to career self harm.

Aug 8, 2014 at 1:58 PM | Registered Commentertomo

You mean it's all been a Big Lie? The Roman Empire didn't decline after all because the elite succumbed to lead poisoning from adulterating wine with lead acetate. It was because their elite joined their equivalent of the National Trust and stopped industry from providing power, transport, weapons and food!

Aug 8, 2014 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterturnedoutnice

During the last Labour government the NT was one of several organisations to apply for and receive taxpayers money (in the form of a DEFRA grant) to promote the global warming/climate change agenda.

Aug 8, 2014 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

SadButMadLad / Ray / Fay
Grade 2 listed buildings, you can't make modifications so no one wants them so they fall down. Seems to be an ideal solution.

Aug 8, 2014 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

@ Fay | Aug 8, 2014 at 12:32 PM

Well said!

All we need is the NT to campaign to change the name in the high streets, so the retail outlets say "Ye Olde Argos Shoppe" and the like, and the Disneying of the UK would be complete. I despair of the NT methods of ensuring that the smallest area of Britain is preserved. And what is all this preservation for? Tourists?
Just about sums up the NT, stop progress, stiffle change, preserve everything as bloody heritage. Some heritage should be destroyed, torn down, remodeled, thrown away. Do it so that the country can live again instead of being a vast souless ancient funeral parlor. This nation has become ossified and the likes of NT and the of the green blobs are part of the problem, not an answer.

How are the young supposed to get a start with propery prices so high, with companies constrained by 'preservation orders' restricting their busnesses or stopping them expanding to surrounding land? The generations of the boom years are selfishly destroying the younger generations start in life by all this wasted potential in property and land. It's time to stop, enough is enough.

So call me a philistine if you will but I still think the young should be offered a future, not the beautified, tarted-up, faked history of the past.

Aug 8, 2014 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason


Are you saying there can be no new culture and art?

Your simplistic propaganda technique - of 'Lesser Of Two Evils' - of Plutocrat's Stately Pile Vs Tower Hamlets expresses a gloomy, pessimistic lack of imagination, which is symptomatic of many ancestor worshipers.

The National Trust represents stagnation - it has become a block on new ideas. I want a new reformation, new art, architecture, new Garden Cities, underground shopping centres, and dynamic régime change, which questions past orthodoxies and forms new institutions to haul Britain into the 21C.

Aug 8, 2014 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterFay

Well he switched the pea right from the offset, talking about members as if their views matter.

Aug 8, 2014 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterTim Spence

Tim Spence

yep - it's one of Simon's favorite tactics :-) He's good - not quite a Dynamo though....

Aug 8, 2014 at 3:02 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Probably most people who give money to Oxfam think it is dedicated solely to relieving famine, little do they know that a sizable chunk of their donations are diverted for political advocacy.

There should be a law to stop that kind of thing, which also applies to the RSPCA and the RSPB, as well as the usual suspects such as Greenpeace and WWF.

Aug 8, 2014 at 3:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

He won't be there much longer

Aug 8, 2014 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterVictoria Sponge

In good company with Mister Monbiot I think ... Simon's immediately prior piece contains these gems of wisdom:

Few experiences can be more detached from life than sitting silent in a classroom. The concept of “subjects”, like the methods of teaching and testing them, are little changed from a century ago. So, too, is the claim that those of strictly specialist use – maths or, previously, Latin – are to “train the mind”. Learning chunks of the Qur’an also trains the mind. But then Britain’s exam-obsessed schools can make a madrasa seem a liberal education.

Who needs numbers?.... = liberal arts and no nasty tests to fail for everybody then.

Aug 8, 2014 at 7:48 PM | Registered Commentertomo

OT but see P Gosselin at NoTricksZone.

Wonderful stuff. Geologist Dr Sebastian Lüning and Professor of Chemistry Fritz Vahrenholt take a pop at the BBC stance on the Lawson - Hoskins debate on the Today Program.

I do hope we can wind this one up to force a defensive comment from the useless, biased BBC.

Aug 8, 2014 at 8:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

The reality is that even in an organisation with millions , actual control in the hands of the few , usual so keen and motived enough to but the effort in to gain power which they can use to pursue their own aims . the NT like the RS has most members who are happy for other to do all the boring and dirty work of committees etc well they get on enjoying the benefits of membership. Only it is this boring and dirty work of committees that results in policy and often the public message sent out too often 'loving press '

Remember ever time someone says all these science organisation support 'the cause ' so it most be true , that not one of them has actual asked their own members what they think and therefore have based their stance on what the majority of members think is reality . Rather it is the view of 'the keen' that make up committees you are seeing .

Aug 8, 2014 at 9:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I'm a NT volunteer in the countryside. The house itself is not spectacular but the walks and gardens are. It is situated just outside a major conurbation. You can stand in certain places and not see a house in view - even on the hills. If it wasn't owned by NT it would be covered in houses - mostly to house foreigners. Are you really suggesting the NT is a bad thing. Personally, I don't feel strongly about hunting (foxhunting I assume is the subject) but NT doesn't allow any kind of hunting and most of its properties have plenty of deer and badgers and foxes. I don't see anything wrong with this, after all the foxhunter types are big money people who work in the city or have huge land holdings themselves. As far as wind turbines are concerned - you won't find any on NT land.
The central heating for the house and offices is by wood chip. However, that wood comes from NT woodland and would otherwise be littering the floor of the woodland. The price of wood in this country is in such a state that it is cheaper to import wood from France than set up a wood mill and produce it ourselves. Good for the French but not a lot of use to us as you will find the NT and Woodland Trust have piles and piles of wood they can't get rid of. Using it as wood chip makes sense. Nothing wrong with renewables if they save you money - and wood chip in NT properties makes common sense.
Why chop trees down? Trees blow down all the time, branches break off and squirrels chew the bark and they become diseased. NT does kill squirrels - even if they are fluffy. The NT is subject to the same environmental fashions as any other organisation and the people working for them are educated in places like the UEA which does environmental courses. However, they are like anyone else, and just as likely to be sceptical. The only green person I've come across, or talked to, was a former student who couldn't get a job in environmentalism and opted for a short term contract with NT. He ended up working for a potato research company in Scotland - as far away as you can be from the Green Blob.

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered Commentercarol smith

Aug 8, 2014 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered Commentercarol smith


You need to be the Chairperson of the NT. If that happens, I will rejoin.



Aug 8, 2014 at 10:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

"you might be the bad guys"

I see Warmer Argumentation is razor-sharp these days.


Aug 8, 2014 at 10:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

foxhunter types are big money people who work in the city or have huge land holdings themselves

You have some strange ideas, Carol.

Anyone who's lived in the countryside knows that most hunts, with the exception of a few well reported "celebrity" ones, are made of of local farmers, pony club types, horsey ladies and local enthusiasts generally.

Through a "horsey" daughter, I've been peripherally involved in several hunting communities and never come across anyone remotely like your rather politicised stereotype.

I would have imagined that someone involved with the NT would have a bit more of an insight into rural life.

Aug 9, 2014 at 1:00 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

I was a bit surprised to read Carol's description of "foxhunter types" as well.
Presumably this is what she has been led to believe by the anti-hunting brigade that run organisations like the NT and the RSPCA among others.
I'm not sure that her "plenty of deer and badgers and foxes" isn't one step away from too many deer and badgers and foxes and the idea that it is only squirrels that damage trees is, I'm sorry to say, not true. Deer are a menace in young plantations.
But the real point is that the NT is a "townie" organisation. This is not a bad thing per se and the work it does in maintaining genuinely historic buildings and landscapes is important but it does mean that it fails to understand the interactions of nature.
Any true countryman will shudder at that "plenty of deer and badgers and foxes" for the very simple reason that none of them have any natural predators in the UK which means that they will die of disease or old age or on the roads to the danger of motorists as well as themselves or of starvation as the food supply becomes unable to support them.
"The NT doesn't allow any kind of hunting ..." is not something to be proud of unless it has a proper programme of maintenance for the herds on its land. To put it more bluntly: culling them to keep the numbers at a healthy level. But it doesn't, does it? Because the people that run the NT and the little old ladies in Cheltenham who leave several thousand pounds to it don't understand these things and think that killing cuddly animals is cruel.
There are times wheh refusing to kill them is in fact more cruel.

Aug 9, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

National Trust sounds like yet another example of the NGO syndrome. Good intentioned organizations are granted tax free status and then over time grow far beyond their original intentions into huge financial concerns that the productive parts of society have to support despite their huge financial operation.
The idea that a healthy land use policy does not involve hunting/culling is an oxymoron, no matter the high motives declared by the decision makers of the policy.

Aug 9, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

I think your description, "NGO Syndrome". encapsulates the situation very neatly.
It is a disease that has spread widely over my lifetime where we see organisations that were once highly respected and commanded wide support for their work stray off the beaten track and become pressure groups for causes they were never intended to pursue.
The BBC has followed a similar course and typifies the problem to an extent. Where a large and fairly amorphous organisation (as Carol Smith says above, the NT relies to a very great extent on local volunteers) is virtually guaranteed a sizeable income either because of government support or because wealthy donors and patrons are keen that it should continue doing the things they think it is doing (ask most people about the NT or the RSPB and climate change and hunting will not come anywhere the top of their list) and where there is virtually no proper oversight of their activities then infiltration — 'entryism' to use the 1970s/80s term — is relatively easy and hard to identify or combat.
The Charity Commission, like so many quangos, is effectively toothless and has been so politically corrupted over the years that many groups are more likely to lose charitable status if they don't at least give a nod in the direction of climate change than if they stick with their core function as originally set down. Its Scottish equivalent, with which I had some dealings a decade or so ago, is if anything worse. The important thing then was to tick all the 'current political fad' boxes and make sure your constitution specified every minority on earth. "Membership shall be open to any human being prepared to fork out a tenner a year" wasn't good enough for them and I had the pleasure of re-writing one local group's application four times before it was accepted.
We had the impression then that we could have been aiming to support and encourage ritual suicide and human sacrifice for all they cared as long as we made it clear that anyone could join in!
And please don't let me start in the aid charities in Africa!

Aug 9, 2014 at 1:41 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Thanks. Your observations give the concept more context.
Over time I hope the NGO Syndrome idea can be fleshed out further. NGOs are becoming a worldwide problem in many ways, becoming the opposite of what their founders intended in all too many cases. And certainly playing an inappropriate role in the public square.

Aug 10, 2014 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

You're welcome!
I'm working on a blog post on aid NGOs. It's taking me some time because what set me off (a TV commercial) almost had me throwing things at the TV and I'm trying to calm down.
I've recounted my experiences with eco-activists at what you might call "parish" level more than once. What I see happening with the NGOs we've already mentioned is pretty much the same thing writ large.
"I know whereof I speak", as the saying goes.

Aug 10, 2014 at 2:18 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Some of us remember when the National Trust campaigned against wind turbine arrays in sensitive landscapes.

Mysteriously that campaign vanished overnight when NT sold the use of its name to an energy company to flog so-called 'green tariffs' (currently £40 per sign-up to Good Energy).

Aug 11, 2014 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterNLys

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