February 5, 2022 6.00 am

Three years since Thatcher statue was approved, plans proceed to erect effigy in Grantham

Statue still on the cards

Today marks three years since South Kesteven District Council approved plans to erect a £300,000 Margaret Thatcher statue in the centre of town.

The decision on February 5, 2019, took place amidst a storm of controversy, with many deriding the proposals to honour the Iron Lady, and there were fears political vandals and other security risks would damage the structure. The statue had originally been planned to be erected in Parliament Square but was eventually rejected due to similar concerns.

Since then, despite the building of a plinth to start the development (thereby eliminating hopes it might hit the three-year time limit to begin) there has been little movement.

The council first took a year-and-a-half to agree to put aside £100,000 for an unveiling event in case fundraising did not succeed, three months later it – unlike Mrs Thatcher – U-turned following backlash with leaders, leaving it to private donors to pick up the tab.

At this time, the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun and it seemed plans were again put on hold as government restrictions took effect, leaving the unveiling dates postponed and councils focussing on promoting their community’s health and safety, and supporting businesses and residents through a series of lockdowns.

But SKDC Council Leader Councillor Kelham Cooke is “extremely confident” things will progress soon.

Speaking to Local Democracy Reporter (LDR) Daniel Jaines, Councillor Cooke said: “The statue will be being installed this year.

“I’m not going to give a date yet, there will be one announced shortly and there will be a date for the installation and then a date for the official unveiling.

“It was disappointing we had to postpone it due to COVID but we remain extremely confident that it will be in place later this year.”

South Kesteven District Council leader Councillor Kelham Cooke.

He acknowledged there had been “fairly mixed responses” but said that had “not changed the plans”.

“Statues are there to create opinion and create conversation, so some people will talk about the merits of Thatcherism and some will talk about other views in terms of what Margaret Thatcher achieved.

“Ultimately, she was the first female Prime Minister and she was born and brought up in Grantham so we need to recognise her locally for her achievements.”

During the BLM riots in 2020 a statue to Bristol merchant Edward Colston – who donated much of his wealth to good causes, but made that wealth through the slave trade – was pulled down by protestors and thrown in the river.

The move sparked a conversation over whether there should be statues to honour people, who should be paid tribute to, and how that should happen, alongside the value for money of such commemorations if they were going to be damaged.

Councillor Cooke told the LDR service: “As a country we need to acknowledge our past, learn from it and move forwards.

“The destruction of statues, actually, for me we need to recognise our history and learn from it.”

Sculptor Douglas Jennings applying the finishing touches to the stature when it was created.

Thatcher’s own history was also a spotted one. Born and raised Margaret Roberts in Grantham, she attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, before gaining a scholarship to study at Oxford University.

Her father Alfred, a grocer, was mayor of the town from 1945 to 1946. She was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 and entered the House of Lords in 1992.

She died on April 8, 2013, following a stroke.

A 10 foot plinth on which the bronze statue will stand to deter vandals has stood empty. | Photo: Daniel Jaines for The Lincolnite

To her supporters, Thatcher was a patriot who showed strong leadership in the Falklands War, reduced the influence of trade unions, scaled back public benefits and reduced regulation.

However, her detractors are keen to point out thousands suffered under many of her policies including the closure of the coal mining trade, the social unrest over the poll tax, her hesitance to act over the AIDS crisis and the introduction of Section 28 – the series of laws that prohibited “promotion” of homosexuality.

Staunch Grantham Conservative Councillor Ray Wootten praised the PM for holding her three consecutive terms from 1979 to 1990.

“Her landslide victory in 1983, owed partly to her leadership in the Falklands War, resulted in her being dubbed the ‘Iron Lady” by the Soviet Union for the way she dealt with difficult policies,” he said.

Councillor Ray Wootten.

“Even today Margaret Thatcher remains a controversial figure following her political victory against Arthur Scargill in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.

“History views her years in office favourably which is why in her hometown of Grantham she should be recognised with a statue.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Amanda Wheeler emphasised the rejection by Westminster Council to erect the statue in London on grounds it would attract civil disobedience and vandalism.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Amanda Wheeler.

Other effigies to the Iron Lady have suffered at the hands of her opponents. In 2002 a statue in London Guildhall was decapitated, while in 1980 a waxwork on display in Dublin was stabbed and slashed across the face.

“That SKDC plan to place the statue in the heart of Grantham is an an insult to everyone who suffered under Thatcher’s policies; it is also certain to cost the council a considerable sum in security,” said Councillor Wheeler.

“If Grantham has to have this divisive statue, it should be safely hidden away, under lock and key, in the Grantham Museum. “

Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan.

Labour Councillor Charmaine Morgan has been a constant outspoken critic of the plans. She said the unveiling would be a “high profile costly affair”.

Despite the funding being cancelled, she said: “The event will no doubt be opportunistically used as a rallying cry for their supporters as we approach local elections.

“We know how much Conservatives like to party! It has already cost tax payers money including new CCTV being installed and trees cut for security purposes.

“Whilst some await it, others of us will be delighted if it is delayed indefinitely. There are other far more pressing concerns for local people now.”

Councillor Ashley Baxter. | Photo: South Kesteven District Council

Independent Ashley Baxter felt it was “barely credible” that the Conservatives “think this is an appropriate time to waste time, effort and public money on this divisive project”.

“In light of the recent statue controversies around the country, and around the world, it is foolhardy and irresponsible to proceed with unveiling a statue of Margaret Thatcher at this time,” he said.

He pointed to English Heritage rules that blue plaque commemorations have to take place no less than 20 years following a person’s death, whereas the Thatcher statue was less than 10 years.

“It is undignified, bordering on dangerous, and I fear the politicians jumping on this particular bandwagon do not have sufficient regard for the potential public order implications,” said Councillor Baxter.

“A project to install a water refill station at Stamford was criticised by local Conservatives as a ‘vanity project’. Surely, the statue of Margaret Thatcher is the biggest Conservative vanity project of them all!?”

| Photo: Getty Images

The statue to be erected was created by sculpture Douglas Jennings and was paid for by public donations.

It remains in storage at a secret location.

When approved, councillors agreed the bronze structure would have to be placed on a 3.2 metre high plinth, making it more than 6.4 metres tall in total.

Previous breakdowns of costs of the unveiling event set out an estimated spend of £50,200 on an external events company and £24,250 on public safety.

Since it was approved there have been protest events planned including egging the statue, while other artists have taken the opportunity to utilise the empty plinth for their own projects.