Love her or hate her, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is about to get a $23 million museum in her honor.
Not one week after the divisive leader passed away, the Conservative Way Forward, a pressure group Thatcher set up in 1991, after her downfall, in hopes of maintaining her agenda, announced it would erect a library and museum in her honor, inspired by memorials built for Thatcher’s longtime friend and ally: Ronald Reagan.
Donal Blaney, chief executive of Conservative Way Forward, said the museum would be based on the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., and the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara.
“Through a range of innovative exhibits, the Reagan Library tells the story of President Reagan’s life in an electrifying way. Both facilities ensure that you get to understand Reagan the Man as well as Reagan the President,” Blaney enthused on the Conservative Home blog. “By May 2009 it had become clear to me that we needed something similar to protect the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and to teach future generations about her life, values and achievements. The Margaret Thatcher Library & Museum was conceived.”
Supporters hope to raise 15 million pounds ($23 million) for the institution, aimed at educating the next generation in Thatcher’s core beliefs of low taxation, support for the individual over the state and the primacy of the free market.
The project is without precedent in British politics, as Brits don’t generally honor the legacies of prime ministers as Americans do with former presidents. However, as Blaney noted, “Margaret Thatcher herself … was the first of her kind, too.”
Thatcher, who died at the age of 87 on April 8, personally backed the project, according to Blaney, and a number of her closest advisers and former colleagues are involved.
Tory MP Conor Burns and Cecil Parkinson, a former Cabinet minister and Conservative Party chairman, both spoke out in support of the institution this week.
The museum will feature items like Thatcher’s signature blue Aquascutum suits, handbags and other relics both donated and on loan. It will also house a “state-of-the-art education center” and be “the defining legacy project in her memory.”
A series of programs, conferences, lectures and workshops will all explore Thatcher’s legacy “from a variety of angles,” and Blaney assured that the museum would not offer “a saccharine whitewashing of history.”
“Its credibility as a center of learning will rightly depend on all aspects of her legacy being open to examination,” he said. “We will welcome contributors, exhibits and visitors from among those who continue to oppose her achievements or who believe that she was not the savior of our nation.”
Most who commented on the Conservative Home blog expressed support for the project, though some questioned the cost.
“So as the UK and U.S. economies grind to a halt and each nations’ people live in countries with an ever increasing gap between rich and poor, some continue to venerate the economic short-termism and monumental incompetence of those twin titans of destruction ... Mrs. T and Mr. R,” one wrote. “I suppose if you like an undemocratic society fuelled entirely by credit, bubbles, greed and a crass unthinking love of money masquerading as ‘conservatism,’ you might want to visit one of these museums.”
Despite some criticism, British media report that several “large donations” have already been pledged, with talks under way for a site close to Westminster. Private fundraising for the project will begin in earnest after Thatcher’s funeral on Wednesday at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.