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The hard-right Conservative candidate in the London mayoral race has publicly endorsed a controversial group that has been accused of downplaying the negative impact of Britain’s colonial past.
Susan Hall has thrown her weight behind Restore Trust, which has been highly critical of the National Trust’s efforts to add historical context to buildings and land it owns which were linked to Britain’s role in slavery.
In a tweet posted this month, Hall said: “History can teach us so much about our place in the world and how we build a better future. We shouldn’t deny this to future generations by rewriting it or removing statues. We cannot let our heritage be torn apart by today’s divisive politics”.
Her support for the right-wing movement came with a graphic that stated: “I’m helping to restore trust in the National Trust”.
However, Hall’s stance has raised questions about her position on Britain’s role in colonialism, in one of the world’s most diverse cities. Last week, London Labour MPs wrote to Conservative chairman Greg Hands asking why the party backed her given her previous comments about London’s Notting Hill carnival, which she has branded “dangerous”. She has previously said that the black community has a “problem with crime.”
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Her backing for Restore Trust is in line with her firm opposition to the removal of seemingly any statues in the capital.
A new memorial is also being planned dedicated to the victims of the slave trade as part of a review of statues in the capital. Asked whether Hall backed it, her spokesperson said: “Susan is not opposed to new statues and memorials. She objects to existing statues of historical figures being removed, for the reasons she outlined in her tweet”.
It is unclear whether this includes the removal of the statue of slaveholder Robert Milligan from East London’s West India Quay in 2020.
She has previously tweeted: “Leave our statues alone and stop trying to literally re-write the past”. In March last year she wrote of Liz Truss: “I love this woman, she is completely correct, statues must stay and as for pronouns … please”. And in 2020 she tweeted: “Statues reflect the past – leave them alone #Khan – the past is our History and it cannot be changed!”
Restore Trust emerged as a reactionary response to a National Trust report released in September 2020, which drew attention to the links between 93 historic sites under its purview that related to the legacy of colonialism and slavery.
The group took exception to the report’s portrayal of Britain’s past, arguing that it painted an overly negative image of the nation and failed to accurately represent scholarly consensus.
Prominent figures associated with Restore Trust’s National Trust council candidates have further fueled the controversy. Among them is Stephen Green, the leader of a Christian fundamentalist lobbying group, whose candidacy was backed by Restore Trust.
Green’s track record includes lobbying against the criminalisation of marital rape and vocally opposing so-called “woke” causes. In his candidacy statement, he claimed the National Trust was “obsessed” with LGBT issues and its participation in Pride parades.
Other candidates endorsed by Restore Trust have also triggered anger. Historian and founder of History Reclaimed, Zareer Masani, controversially defended the British empire as the “least culpable” in terms of atrocities, claiming it was “the most benevolent of all the empires we’ve had so far. Masani claimed that historians who characterise the East India Company as ruthless and heartless are “very illiterate”.
Restore Trust as an organisation itself is rather elusive. The Good Law Project revealed it was being operated by a company named RT2021 Limited, whose Director, Neil Record is chairs the climate change denial group Net Zero Watch, which shares an address with several think tanks and lobbying groups at 55 Tufton Street.
Last year, Restore Trust failed in its bid to take over the National Trust, in a blow for its ‘anti-woke’ campaign. Every single candidate they put up failed to win, with the group lashing out at what it said was an undemocratic process.
The group also failed in its bid to stop the National Trust taking part in Pride celebrations. RT presents itself as a grassroots movement, with around six thousand current and former members of the National Trust. By contrast the National Trust has over five million members – around a thousand times RT’s membership.
The movement has faced legal challenges regarding transparency and data usage. It was eventually compelled to disclose its leadership and make corrections to its data practices due to legal proceedings initiated by the Good Law Project. As a result of mounting pressure, Restore Trust agreed to settle the legal dispute, undertake corrective actions, and cover the associated costs.
When asked about her backing for Restore Trust, Susan Hall’s spokesperson simply pointed Byline Times towards her tweet.
Jolyon Maugham, director of Good Law Project, which took Restore Trust to court, said: “Susan Hall’s backing of Tufton Street outfit Restore Trust, is yet another example of her lack of sensitivity on issues of racial justice. This makes her particularly poorly equipped to be Mayor of a proudly multi-racial city.
“It’s incredibly disappointing that the Conservatives haven’t seemed to have learned any lessons following Zac Goldsmith’s deplorable and racist Mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan in 2016”.
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