Margaret Thatcher’s £300,000 statue should still be erected in her home town, say supporters, despite fears that protestors could tear it down.
Sixteen months after the controversial statue was approved by councillors in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the plinth on which it will stand still remains empty.
Following a decade of rows, the memorial to Baroness Thatcher has been further delayed by the coronavirus lockdown.
And as a debate rages across Britain over the suitability of various statues, there have been fresh calls for the £300,000 monument not to be erected.
Artist’s impression: With a 10.5ft sculpture atop a 10.5ft plinth, the proposed statue would dominate the quiet town square in Margaret Thatcher’s home town of Grantham
Opponents of the ‘Iron Lady’ say she was a divisive figure and claim the statue will only attract vandals.
But outraged supporters insist the monument is a ‘fitting tribute’ and must be erected as planned.
Well over a year has now passed since councillors finally approved the privately-funded statue for Britain’s first female Prime Minister, who famously lived above her father’s Grantham grocers store.
The statue remains in storage at a secret location and a date for the big unveiling has yet to be confirmed.
All that can be seen on the chosen site in Grantham town centre is a lonely plinth which has been wrapped in tarpaulin and fenced off waiting for the 3.2 metre high statue which was previously rejected by Westminster Council.
Lincolnshire Police had recommended the statue by Douglas Jennings is placed on a ‘sufficiently high plinth’ and within easy view to deter attackers.
And with a renewed national debate over statues some locals have claimed it would not be a suitable time to erect the Thatcher monument.
Charmaine Morgan, the Labour leader of South Kesteven District Council, fears Grantham’s Thatcher statue could fall victim to protestors if it is erected.
Councillor Morgan said: ‘I was contacted on Twitter and asked by people where the Margaret Thatcher statue was after the Colston statue was taken down.
The statue of Thatcher by Douglas Jennings was originally set to be placed in Canning Green, Parliament Square, but was rejected by Westminster Council
‘Clearly she is still at the forefront of people’s minds.
‘I had to tell them the statue isn’t actually up yet, but clearly there are some people who are prepared to have that statue come down.’
Another local Labour party supporter said: ‘Thatcher was such a diversive figure, even in Grantham, that I don’t think now is the right time to put the statue up.
‘Everyone has had to come together in this time of national emergency and I don’t feel it would be suitable at the moment.
‘There perhaps needs to be a fresh discussion, as things are changing so quickly.’
Despite fears it may be targeted by politically motivated vandals, supporters initially hoped the controversial sculpture would be unveiled by a ‘big name’ in Autumn last year.
A cement base was laid last September and an announcement followed that the statue would be unveiled in the ‘early part’ of this year with details expected in January.
A plinth for the statue was finally craned into place in February and ground work was expected to continue through March.
To mark the milestone, a commemorative Margaret Thatcher coin was launched, available for £5 in the local museum gift shop.
But 16 months has now passed since the scheme was given the go-ahead, and still no date has been given for the ‘top secret’ unveiling.
Grantham Conservative councillor Ray Wootten has been a keen supporter of the statue and insists it should be erected.
‘There will always be somebody who wants to make a name for themselves by causing criminal damage,’ Cllr Wootten said.
‘But I take the view that I have been to Huddersfield and seen the statue of Sir Harold Wilson. I didn’t feel the need to damage or deface it, I saw it for what it is, a statue of a former Prime Minster.’
Councillor Wootten confirmed there was unfortunately no date yet for the unveiling and pointed out council meetings were still being held by virtual technology due to the coronavirus.
A former Mayor of Grantham, Cllr Wootten says he is looking forward to the unveiling when it eventually happens.
Outraged supporters insist the monument is a ‘fitting tribute’ and must be erected as planned. Pictured: Thatcher speaking at the Tory Party annual conference in Brighton in October 1967
Cllr Wootten said: ‘The installation and eventual unveiling of the statue celebrating the life of Margaret Thatcher Britain’s first female Prime Minister will bring a sense of pride to the people of Grantham.’
The bronze sculpture is set to stand on the green in St Peter’s Hill, in between statues of Sir Isaac Newton and Frederick Tollemache. Plans to erect a statue to Grantham’s most famous daughter have split the town for over a decade.
Despite several suggestions by successive mayors Grantham’s only tribute to Britain’s female Prime Minister remains a tiny plaque above her father’s former grocer’s store in North Parade.
The deadlock was finally broken in February last year when a report to South Kesteven District Council stated there was not felt to be a significant threat to the installation of the statue locally.
But it added: ‘In general there remains a motivated far-left movement across the UK who may be committed to public activism.
‘It still remains that there is a possibility any public statue of ‘Baroness Thatcher’ would be a likely target for politically motivated vandals.’
Despite the fears councillors on South Kesteven planning committee voted unanimously in favour of the proposal despite a small protest by local opponents.
In a bid to avoid the statue being attacked Lincolnshire Police recommended it should be placed on a ‘sufficiently high plinth and in easy view.’
The statue, which is said to be be in storage at a secret location, is due to be placed in the centre of Grantham at St Peter’s Hill on a 3.2 metre high plinth, and will be over 6.4 metres tall in total.
Grantham Community Heritage Association (GCHA), which runs the Grantham Museum, had received 17 letters of objection to their planning application, mainly noting Mrs Thatcher’s position as a ‘divisive figure’ and the potential for crime and disorder.
The statue has been paid for by The Public Memorials Trust, a charity that aims to commission and erect memorials to historically important people.
Supporters hope the statue will increase the town’s tourism offer and visitor numbers.
A debate has been raging across Britain over the suitability of various statues, such as the above, showing a monument to slave owner Robert Milligan covered with a blanket and a placard reading ‘Black Lives Matter’ near Canary Wharf before it was removed by workers
Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) was born and raised in Grantham and attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, before gaining a scholarship to study at Oxford University. Her father Alfred, a grocer, was Mayor from 1945 to 1946.
Plans to build the statue on Parliament Square, in London, were previously rejected by Westminster Council due to fears over vandalism. It was then offered to Grantham.
A Westminster council planning document suggested the proposed statue had come too soon after Baroness Thatcher’s death in 2013.
The council has a ’10 year principle’, where statues or memorials are generally not erected until 10 years have elapsed since the subject’s death.
The Metropolitan Police also raised concerns over possible civil disobedience but this did not form part of the planning application.
But Grantham Community Heritage Association (GCHA), which runs the town’s museum, said it was a ‘fitting tribute to a unique political figure’. It also said it would encourage visitors to the town ‘from both sides of the debate’.
Councillor Wootten added: ‘No matter what your political views are, Margaret Thatcher against all odds became Britain’s Conservative Party Leader in 1975 and in 1979 was elected Prime minister, the first woman to hold this position between 1979 to 1990 and she was born in Grantham.
‘The statue on St Peters Hill will be a fitting tribute to the Iron Lady.’