Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only female prime minister, continues to generate controversy even four months after the death of the "Iron Lady" at age 87. Officials at the museum in Grantham, the small town in Lincolnshire where Baroness Thatcher was born and grew up, have unveiled illustrations of possible statues of the ex-prime minister and Conservative Party icon. Backers of the project are seeking to raise £200,000 ($311,500) largely from private donations for the proposed statue and other renovation features at the museum. The artist made three pictures of the statue, two of which show her standing, the other, sitting. An actual location for the statue has not yet been decided upon.
"The opportunity for Grantham to embrace its rich heritage and exploit it for the good of the town is something that should be welcomed," said Grantham Museum chairman Helen Goral, according to BBC. "The pose and exact location of the statue is undecided; however, these initial drawings give the public an indication of the possibilities for this historic project."
Given the polarizing effect of Thatcher’s personality and policies while in power, and the opprobrium she triggered among her many critics, not everyone is happy with the efforts to immortalize her, even in her hometown. Indeed, the only public commemoration she enjoys in Grantham consists of a small plaque outside her father’s former grocery store, marking her birthplace. The Grantham Museum does, however, include a Thatcher exhibit among its contents.
British media reported that any such statue of Thatcher (whose funeral service in London attracted a number of protesters) might have to be positioned on plinths in order to dissuade vandals from damaging it. (In 2002, a statue of Thatcher in central London was decapitated). Goral herself admitted that Thatcher is unpopular with a large segment of the British public but said her accomplishments should override anything else. “Whether you agree with her politics or not, Mrs. Thatcher was the first female prime minister of this country and the longest-serving [of the 20th Century],” she stated. “Since her death, there’s been quite a significant number of visitors to the museum. We get a lot of international visitors and they are amazed Grantham doesn’t have anything substantial to recognize where she comes from.”
Goral also told Politics.co.uk that some local Labour Party officials have already expressed their disapproval over any Thatcher statue in the town, even though it will be financed privately. She also insisted the majority of people in Grantham support a Thatcher memorial statue. "[Thatcher] is always going to be divisive, but she wasn't the longest-serving prime minister this country's had for no reason,” Goral said. "We are an educational charity, and what we are trying to do is recognize the heritage and history of the town."
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The battle over claiming Thatcher’s image (or not) has roiled in Grantham for decades. Earlier this year, a few months prior to her death, even Conservative councilors in Grantham voted against a plan to construct a statue of her in the town (ironically, Labour leaders at the time supported the idea, citing its value as a tourist attraction).
Local resident Antony Hindmarch took issue with that notion in a letter to the Grantham Journal. "I think it's safe to say that anyone who thinks tourism is going to result from the erection of a statue of Thatcher is probably living in cloud cuckoo land,” he wrote. "Personally I loathe Maggie and all she stood for. All I ask is that no public money be used to erect any statue. The economic wasteland that is Grantham is testament enough to Thatcherism."