Thatcher statue approved amid fiery debate

Not for turning: The statue, which cost an estimated £300,000, was paid for by private donations.

A statue of the UK’s first female prime minister will be put up on a tall plinth in her hometown, out of the reach of vandals, a year after the sculpture was rejected by Westminster council.

Carved in bronze, 10 foot tall, the stern gaze of Margaret Thatcher will loom over tourists in Grantham, the Lincolnshire town where she was born.

Yesterday, the local council approved plans for a statue of the UK’s first female prime minister to be erected on a green at St Peter’s Hill.

The structure will be all the more imposing because it will be on a three-metre high plinth, which officials hope will keep it out of reach of “politically motivated vandals”.

Last year, the statue — originally intended for Parliament Square — was refused by Westminster council amid fears it would be a target for protesters.

Had it been approved, the former prime minister would have joined statues of 12 men in the square and just one woman: the suffragist Millicent Fawcett.

Margaret Thatcher became prime minister on May 5, 1979, four years after becoming the first woman to lead a major British political party.

She won three general elections and stayed in Downing Street for 11 years and 209 days, still the longest term of any prime minister in over 100 years.

“Mrs Thatcher evokes powerful devotion and equally powerful antipathy,” wrote The Guardian the day after the 1979 election. Forty years on, and six years after her death, the statement still stands.

Many Conservatives idolise her for turning post-war Britain’s economic decline into the economic boom of the late 1980s. Her political vision, which championed competition and privatisation, earned its own name, Thatcherism.

However, many in working-class communities felt left behind amid high unemployment. Bitter resentment still lingers from events like the miners’ strike and the poll tax riots.

But whether you liked her or not, “very few leaders get to change not only the political landscape of their country but of the world,” said former Prime Minister Tony Blair after her death. “Margaret was such a leader.”

Not for turning

For many in industrial areas living with her legacy, Thatcher destroyed communities and livelihoods. The anger directed at the leader and her impact on Britain is still fresh and very raw. Putting up the statue will only inflame division. Besides, the security costs of fruitlessly trying to protect it from vandalism are not worth it.

On the other hand, she was a towering figure in British history. Perhaps the fact that there is not already a public statue of her is the most shocking detail of the story. Why is Thatcher considered too “divisive” for London? What about the statues of countless, less important men who participated in colonial violence and the slave trade?

You Decide

  1. Why is Margaret Thatcher such a divisive figure?
  2. Did she have a negative or positive impact on Britain?

Activities

  1. Choose who you think is the worst and best prime minister since 1900. Discuss your choices in groups.
  2. Read the pieces by Isabel Hardman and Dawn Foster in Become An Expert. Consider the different ways they talk about the role of statues, especially in reference to the history of colonialism. Write your own short article discussing the purpose of statues.

Some People Say...

“There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

Margaret Thatcher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
South Kesteven district council has approved plans to erect a statue of Margaret Thatcher, the UK’s first female prime minister, in her hometown of Grantham in Lincolnshire. The statue by sculptor Douglas Jennings was offered to Grantham after it was rejected by Westminster council over fears it would be vandalised.
What do we not know?
Whether the statue will be vandalised. While it will be protected by CCTV and a high plinth, Margaret Thatcher was a very divisive figure whose legacy shaped the history of the UK, whether for the better or the worst. Six years after her death, she is still reviled in many working-class industrial communities.

Word Watch

Millicent Fawcett
As a suffragist, she was more moderate than the suffragettes, who launched violent protests for female suffrage. Her statue was put up last year in Parliament Square.
100 years
She served for 18 months longer than Tony Blair, a former Labour prime minister, who also won three elections.
Privatisation
When a company that is run by the government is sold to private owners who will run it for profit. Thatcher argued that privatisation was “fundamental to improving Britain’s economic performance”.
Thatcherism
Her political philosophy emphasised liberty of the individual and of markets. She wanted to reduce the role of government in people’s lives. She rejected the post-war consensus, when major parties agreed on a large welfare state, high taxes and nationalised businesses.
Miners’ strike
1984-85. Widespread industrial action as the government shut down much of the UK coal industry.
Poll tax riots.
Civil unrest and rioting in 1990 against Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of a tax levied on individuals, rather than the property they owned.