What connects the Grenfell Tower fire and the National Trust ‘rainbow row’?

By Ronald Olden

Demanding that we all be held accountable for our own actions, and that we perform duties we have agreed to accept, is at the heart of libertarianism. That, however, is one reason why ‘liberty’ is such an anathema to most ‘socialists’.

All ‘libertarians’, for example, should stand 100% behind ‘gay rights’. But ‘gay rights’ don’t exist in isolation; ‘gay rights’ are ‘human rights’ and we must, as long they are not interfering with the similar rights of someone else, maintain the rights of anyone to do, and be, whatever they like. When they start meddling with the rights of someone else, they need to be held to strict account.

Thus, we must maintain the right of a Christian (or indeed any other) couple, not to be pilloried for refusing to decorate a cake with political slogans, or be required to do so simply on the grounds that the customer is gay. What difference does it make to anyone, if someone refuses to decorate a cake with a pro-Gay Marriage’ icing design? There are plenty of other bakers who’ll do it. The right of the baker to refuse, far outweighs the right of the customer to demand that he alone does so. And it’s a particularly sinister development when we discover that the customer only chose to ask the baker concerned in the first place because he suspected that he would refuse.

Recently the National Trust attempted to exclude those volunteers who work for it free of charge from having any contact with the public unless they agreed to wear LGBTQ promotional ribbons and badges. The National Trust spokesperson said:

Whilst volunteering for the National Trust we do request and expect individuals to uphold the values of the organisation

She derived, from that seemingly innocuous statement, that any volunteer who doesn’t want to actively participate in a political campaign which has nothing directly to do with the stated charitable purpose of the National Trust must be excluded from having contact with the public.

The question is, do the ‘values of the National Trust’ include requiring people to wear badges in support of every political campaign going, and to victimise people who don’t want to join in? It’s not as if these volunteers are insisting on wearing homophobic clothing accessories. They weren’t even expressing direct disagreement with the objectives of the LGBTQ movement.

Does it not occur to these people that one or two of those declining to wear this item of ‘gay rights’ regalia might, themselves, be gay, but finding the badge or ribbon rather distasteful? Indeed, we are not all in a position to wear our politics on our sleeves, and not all of want to do so. It is conceivable that those concerned value a quiet, apolitical life without becoming involved in politics, whilst at the same time enjoying serving the National Trust.

Following a public outcry which included volunteers and members resigning in droves and, importantly, stopping donations, the National Trust has now backed down. Can anyone imagine any other ‘private’ organisation (save perhaps for one directly involved in promoting the aims of LGBTQ politics) treating even its paid employees like this? This was downright bullying and was recognised immediately as such. This fiasco has caused immense damage to the reputation of the National Trust, but will any of its paid employees be disciplined or removed from duties involving selection and supervision of volunteers? I doubt it.

Big charities like the National Trust should, for all intents and purposes, be seen as ‘public sector’ organisations. Their paid employees are usually people with the same type of ‘public sector’ mentality as those employed in the public sector proper, and they receive Government and Local Authority Grants and special tax status. The only people genuinely committed to the stated charitable purpose of the organisation are almost invariably the volunteers.

Typically, like local authority employees, the management of these big charities are more interested in abusing their positions to advance their own political platforms than they are in focusing solely on the purpose for which the charity was originally set up. For example, a Social Housing Tower Block in West London is ‘managed’ by its residents via a ‘Not for Profit’ Housing Management Company. This, it is thought, is a highly ‘democratic’ system. In practice, this simply means that it is ‘run’ by local councillors and political activists, none of whom have any interest in, nor experience of, managing property.

The actual tenants don’t have either the time or the political influence to get themselves involved in all of this; they just expect their landlord to do what they’ve pay their rent for. When however, they complain that modifications are being made to the building they are living in, which are turning it into a death trap, their complaints are ignored. The people running the company instead focus on their main priorities, that is, their political agenda manifested int ‘anti austerity’ and ‘equal rights’ campaigning, highlighting the injustices being suffered by the Palestinians, gathering support for the Socialist Government of Venezuela, and on numerous other worthy causes. The building they are responsible for managing subsequently burns down and they, ‘the democratically elected tenants’ representatives’, blame the Government for not doing the job they themselves were supposed to have been doing.

The National Trust and the Grenfell Tower incidents are not unconnected in character. They are symptoms of the same malaise, namely totally unaccountable and self-serving ‘management’.

In a private company the management is accountable to the shareholders, and in a private company of any size the shareholders will have a pretty focused view of its objectives. In a publicly quoted company the large shareholding institutions are watching all the time to ensure that there some semblance of decent management.

But there is no accountability whatsoever in the public sector and in big charities. Big charities are guided by their own management and self-perpetuating boards of Trustees. When one Trustee leaves, they are invariably replaced by someone who shares their own worldview, in other words, with someone who won’t rock the boat; they have all manner self-serving agendas which are not shared by the membership and the donors.

The public sector, is if anything, even worse. There is no hope of incompetent and inexperienced local councillors being able to tell whether the people they are doing their jobs effectively. The local councillors are wholly dependent upon the ‘advice’ and decision-making of managers who have opposite interests from either the tenants or the council.

To whom is a Housing Association accountable? It receives rents from its tenants, or more usually, in the form of Housing Benefit, directly from the council, and it spends the money mostly on employing people. Its management and board are perpetuated by occasional replacements approved by its existing ones. Is it surprising, therefore, that the whole thing ends up being run for the benefit of the management? The people living in the properties and paying the rent (or having it paid on their behalf) don’t get a look in

In the case of local authorities the very people they are employing to run social services, are themselves local voters, and political and Trade Union activists; the councillors to whom they are supposedly ‘accountable’ are in fact dependent upon doing what their employees want, rather than, as it should be, the other way around. The common thread that runs through nearly all these failures, disasters, and all the economic waste is a new lack of accountability, and we increasingly see it not only in the public sector but also in the nominally private sector.


  1. I was intrigued to see how you’d link the Grenfell Tower fire and the National Trust rainbow bullying and climb-down. I am grateful to you for your thought-provoking essay. You have made a valid link. It is not the one I had made. (Mine was “complacency” in the face of risk, of fire, or to individual freedom.) Please forgive me, for the sake of brevity, of commenting only upon what I disagreed with, as follows.

    “All ‘libertarians … should stand 100% behind ‘gay rights’.”

    At this point, you began to lose my confidence. I do understand why a libertarian has to believe that there are any such rights as “gay rights” in the first place. I am able to work with the popular doctrine that there are universal human rights, but I do not believe that any particular sub-group of humans should have additional rights, which are equally fundamental, and which are denied to others who are equally human.

    You recovered quickly from this (as I see it) weak start, by adding immediately that by “gay rights”, all you really meant was “human rights”. Etc. Etc.

    But I felt that you had made a serious error, in the opening sentence. LGBT won’t understand your opening sentence in the same way as you intended it. LGBT teaches that they have special, additional rights, because they are LGBT people. These include controversial rights that cannot possible be exercised, without routine detriment to those who do not have those special, “gay” rights, or don’t or wouldn’t want them.

    Especially vulnerable to LGBT tyranny, are people who are measurably above the neutral line on the homophobic spectrum, i.e. they show a slight, moderate or strong preference to people perceivedly not LGBT. We amount to more than half of the population, according to statistics published by Project Implicit. We include those who believe and teach that homophobia is not a morally neutral attitude, still less one that is reprehensible, but rather an attitude to be taught, encouraged and cultivated.

    The doctrine that homophobia is a moral good is directly contradictory of the LGBT doctrine (and, perhaps, yours?) that homophobia is a moral evil. The position seems untenable to many nowadays, only because they have learnt nothing at all about homosexuality, other than from those who subscribe to the LGBT school of thought. There understanding of what homosexuality is, and what homophobia is, is shaped by indoctrination by LGBT, with all opposing schools of thought having been marginalised and no-platformed for a generation.

    The generic weaknesses in managements commons to Grenfell and the NT that you write about, are one common factor, no doubt. But a factor in the NT case is also the widespread, and dumbed-down ethical belief, which you appear to share, that LGBT is virtuous because it is egalitarian and “progressive”, and that opposition to LGBT is wicked because it is elitist and “reactionary”. But the homophobic are not demanding special treatment, or supremacy. They are merely demanding equality. Moreover, questions about who is on the right side of history will finally be decided until history is over.

    Please compare and contrast

    The homosexual manifesto (1987, Swift)

    with my 2013 parody of Swift’s essay

    The homophobic manifesto

    You can read both via this link:


    • I would extend this comment in a slightly different direction. To me, homophobia is the normative position. I have never understood how ‘equality’ can exist in anything other than a ‘normative kinship community’ (i.e. a community made up of similar people with similar values). In any other setting, ‘equality’ is surely a Socratic ideal, if not a Quixotic myth, since it runs contrary to what we know about human nature and human social formation: specifically, that people are tribal (or ‘nationalist’, as Orwell put it).

      Jefferson’s famous maxim in the American Declaration of Independence was based on this insight, that equality, as such – and indeed liberalism – can only exist and prosper within ‘utopias’ of the like-minded.

      In my view, the problem here is the decision that counter-normative choices should be afforded equality (as opposed to mere tolerance), with the result that we now have a paradox: the more freedom permitted, the less freedom we have. The resolution of the paradox requires that we restore and enforce a normative settlement for the benefit of the majority at the expense of a tiny minority (who always have the freedom to leave and set up elsewhere, nobody is going to harm them).

      In short – libertarianism (maximal political freedom and social toleration) can only flourish when we establish borders/perimeters and standards. If we just say, ‘Anything goes’, then we might as well be monkeys in a jungle, certainly free, but limited in our horizons. Part of ensuring freedom includes having some kind of social contract.

      The problem with the essay is that in calling for 100% backing for gay rights, Ronald Olden doesn’t recognise that he is abrogating the freedoms of the rest of us. “Gay rights” runs against human nature and requires special accommodations for one group at the expense of the majority fecund group. That makes perfect sense to those who are happy to go back to swinging between trees or living in caves and mud huts, but makes no sense to those of us who want civilisation to continue.

      • Jefferson’s famous dictum. Ah yes, this is a pet peeve of mine, or more specifically, the way in which Abraham Lincoln took this phrase and mangled it to mean something else, and the way in which generations of people in America and elsewhere have fallen for “Honest Abe’s” manipulation, these things are a pet peeve of mine.
        When Thomas Jefferson declared that “all men are created equal”, it is abundantly clear that he was thinking not of Black and White and “I’d like to teach the World to sing”, but of King George and his ante-cedents. Bear in mind that little more than a century prior, the King of England claimed to be appointed by God Almighty to rule over us mere mortals. Jefferson said this was all nonsense – we are all the same – kings and commoners are all created equal.This was a revolutionary notion at the time. See also his First inaugural address, where he asks whether we need ‘angels in the form of kings’ to rule over us, or whether we can govern ourselves.

        • The Equality Principle is expressed in many different ways. The oldest I know about is the commandment to love (i.e. to value) one’s neighbour equally with oneself, found in the Old Testament, and in the gospels.

          The doctrine of the Divine Rights of Kings is also old, dating back at least to the Apostle Paul in Romans 13. It did not begin in England, with George I. It has still not ended now. It is a Christian doctrine.

          With respect, the Divine Right of Kings is not the same as the pagan doctrine that surfaces whenever kings and suchlike are deified, suggesting that they are a race apart from “mere mortals”. The Divine Right of Kings doctrine is evidence in the Declaration, in the references to God and to Providence. The argument is that when Caesar is a bad enough tyrant, revolution, led by another royal or a commoner, my become the just means by which God overthrows the bad king, either throughout his kingdom, or in one province. There are examples in the bible, and there had been a spectacular example in the revolution that overthrew Charles I, led by Oliver Cromwell.

          What the Declaration of Independence appears to me to be doing, is to document a situation in which the Equality Principle ought (it was said) to be used to trump the Divine Right of Kings. The renaissance of Republicanism was marketed as the exception to the Divine Right of Kings, the seeds of which are to be found in Romans 13.

          Lincoln applied the Equality Principle, and quoted the formulation of it in the Declaration. I’d have done the same in his situation.

          • I think you are making this more complicated than it needs to be. Jefferson wasn’t quoting any equality ‘principle’ – he was just saying that kings are no better qualified to rule us than we ourselves are – we are all equal in that respect.
            Lincoln was saying something quite different at Gettysburg; he was fraudulently implying that this republic was dedicated to the principle that the races are equal. This of course is palpable nonsense. It directly contradicted Lincoln’s own views, and had nothing whatever to do with what Jefferson was saying, yet people still fall for it today.

            • I see the 14th century revolt of John Ball against the British class system, “When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?”, as an outworking of the same, durable, equality principle that Nelson Mandela appealed to in his rhetoric in the late twentieth century.

              I see Jefferson appealing to this ancient principle in the Declaration, with king George in his sights. I see Lincoln appealing to it in the Gettysburg Address.

              The core meme is equality. Equality isn’t divisible, as though distinctions between royals and commoners violated equality, but Apartheid didn’t.

              If you had accused me of oversimplifying, I’d have admitted it. But you have accused me of the opposite, of over-complicating, and, in that, I think you are making a completely false accusation against me. You couldn’t be more wrong.

              • The problem I have with your analysis is that you suggest Jefferson and Lincoln were saying the same thing. They were not. Lincoln took Jefferson’s words and pretended they meant something quite different. He was thus perpetrating a fraud on the American people, by pretending that the United States had been founded on the principle of equality of the races, whereas it was in fact driven by contempt for Kings who exercised power from afar without accountability. Or to put it more simply, ‘No taxation without representation”. This had nothing whatever to do with race relations or slavery, and it is ridiculous to suggest that it did. Lincoln seems to have got away with it as usual though.
                Just as he did with his closing words at Gettysburg – “that government of the people etc..shall not perish from the earth.”.
                Can anybody tell me how the secession of the Southern States posed a threat to government of the people etc? It’s completely baffling, yet, as always, people just seem to swallow Lincoln’s words without ever questioning them.

                • I have not suggested that Jefferson and Lincoln were saying the same thing at all. I read both documents in full, carefully, for the first time in my life (because I am British) and could see perfectly well that, seventy years or so apart, the two men applied the same ancient ethical principle, the equality of all humans, to entirely different problems in their own times.

                  This is probably the first time I have commented on this blog. I do not wish to abuse the hospitality, by arguing off topic with an American, about the history of his country, on a blog post comparing two recent British news stories. You are welcome to write a blog post making your point, and to invite me to debate with you in the comments on that.

  2. I don’t really ‘get’ this concept of human rights. I mean, I have a right to live peacefully in my home without people breaking in and stealing my property, but I only have such a right because I agree not to break into my neighbour’s house and steal his property. Other than such legally agreed rights, I don’t really understand the concept.
    And I am intrigued by this idea that a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation must be inherently virtuous. I run a small business, and, if I do a good job I might, with a bit of luck, make a profit. In fact to a large degree it is that profit motive which ensures that I do a good job. Any damn fool can run a business and not make a profit. How is that a good thing?

    • I have one take on this, which I posted elsewhere and will reproduce here. I am not saying it will answer your point, but it may shed some light on the matter:

      Strictly speaking, I am not in favour of ‘human rights’, and I do not believe ‘rights’ can be asserted naturally or that such a thing as ‘natural rights’ can exist. The word ‘right’ began as a synonym for ‘law’ and denoted what nascent states could or could not do to interfere in the liberties of their subjects. Only liberties exist in the natural sense and the only debate is the extent to which our liberties (to speak freely, to perambulate around, to own and use guns, or whatever) should be restricted by ‘rights’.

      Thus rights and liberties are opposites. When you speak of ‘gun rights’ or the ‘right to bear arms’, what you should really be talking about is the abolition of the state’s right (or moral privilege) to interfere with a liberty that we have always had.

  3. [quote]”The public sector, is if anything, even worse. There is no hope of incompetent and inexperienced local councillors being able to tell whether the people they are doing their jobs effectively. The local councillors are wholly dependent upon the ‘advice’ and decision-making of managers who have opposite interests from either the tenants or the council.”[unquote]

    In my experience, local councillors selected by the main political parties (mainly Labour and Conservative) tend to be the same type of people as local government officers, and tend to have much the same approach to things, as outlined by Ronald Olden – i.e. don’t rock the boat. In scrutiny meetings, local government officers tend to have an easy time. It’s not just a question of experience and competence, it’s also a cultural thing and a mindset. The type of people who might rock the boat and ask difficult questions are not selected to the local government panels of the main political parties. Independents and UKIP councillors tend to be different and more rooted in their community and proactive, but even then can also (without meaning to) settle into a culture that involves meeting-after-meeting full of jargon and circular, non-productive discussions in which little or nothing of note is achieved.

    Personally I think part of the solution has to be the return of powers to local government, along the lines of those that existed, I believe, prior to the local government reforms of the 20th. century. A renaissance in local government is needed. I dislike elected mayors and would favour the establishment of a principle that power should be devolved down to the most local level possible, with options for local residents to contract their own services out to the private sector. Why shouldn’t we be able to get together with others living near us and sign our own contracts with refuse firms for rubbish collections and even security firms to replace general police response services. If it’s genuine privatisation, not the corrupt corporatisation that the Tories and New Labour introduced, then I see nothing wrong with it.

  4. Absolutely. My right to live undisturbed in my own home is only contingent upon my right to invade my neighbor’s home being curtailed. It is a legal contract, not a God-given ‘right’.

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