‘It’s very divisive’: Margaret Thatcher’s statue splits birthplace of Grantham

It may have been a week since the residents of Grantham were surprised by the appearance of a long-anticipated statue of Margaret Thatcher, but the dust is showing no signs of settling just yet.

After an arduous four-year process, the £300,000 statue was quietly placed on its 10ft plinth last Sunday morning when few people were around, and was egged within hours.

The statue is still prompting strong responses from passersby, with some stopping to take selfies, and others stopping to flip a finger up at it, although her bronze likeness was egg-free.

“It’s very divisive, I have read so many comments about it on social media,” said 25-year-old Mollie Topham, walking past the statue on her way to work. “I don’t think she deserved to be egged, but everyone has got to express their own feelings.

“I can understand why she’s there, she was the first female prime minister and she’s from Grantham. But could the money have gone on something better? It’s a lot of money when we’re desperate for other stuff like shops.”

One local man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he strongly objected to the statue and anticipated it would be subjected to more vandalism.

“I don’t like her and I don’t like the statue being up. She shouldn’t be put on a pedestal,” he said. “I don’t anticipate it being up there that long. I think someone will come along and do what they want to do with it. There’s such strong feelings about it, she’s such a divisive character.”

But there were plenty of people in the town who were glad the statue was finally in place, and were angry she had been egged.

“I have two teenagers and I’m glad the statue is there for them to see. It’s part of Grantham’s history,” said Katrina Glover, who was visiting the statue with her friend Joy Brown, a former Thatcher campaigner. “I think it looks very nice up there, it is where it should be and I’m hoping to God that’s where it stays.”

“I think it’s right that Grantham should celebrate her,” said Les Large, 72, from nearby Stamford. “She’s the first female leader we’ve ever had, and the only one so far. I don’t think it should be vandalised.”

There have been no further reports of eggings since the first day, when Jeremy Webster, the deputy director of the University of Leicester’s Attenborough Arts Centre, was identified as the egg thrower.

Having been talked about for years, many had assumed the statue might never see the light of day. “Until about a month ago, I thought there was a serious chance they were going to bottle it because of the reaction they undoubtedly knew they were going to get,” said Lee Steptoe, the leader of the Labour group on South Kesteven district council. “Thatcher’s legacy still absolutely divides the town, especially among people in their 50s and older.”

The statue’s journey to its plinth in the heart of Grantham began back in 2018, when Westminster council rejected a proposal to place the statue in central London, fearing it would attract vandalism and protests.

It was swiftly approved by the planning committee in her Lincolnshire hometown, but controversy and setbacks followed. There was outrage when, in 2020, the local council decided to underwrite a £100,000 unveiling ceremony for the statue, leading them to scrap the idea.

Steptoe said he had no issue commemorating Thatcher, but thinks the statue serves as a “shrine” to the late leader. “There is no attempt in this Tory town, where I’ve lived all of my life, to actually present an equal balance sheet,” he said.

The statue sits in St Peter’s Hill park, a few yards away from a statue of fellow Grantham alumni Sir Isaac Newton, but there have been calls for her to be rehoused in Grantham Museum.

The museum, just a stone’s throw from the statue, has an exhibition dedicated to Thatcher, which attracts tourists from all over the world.

“The primary attraction is Margaret,” said Nick Jones, a trustee of the museum. “I’d like to say it’s the Isaac Newton exhibition, but he doesn’t bring them in. Just in the past week we’ve had people from Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore. It’s quite surprising to people in Grantham, they struggle to understand that.”

Steptoe said Thatcher’s legacy would always prompt strong emotions in the town, but dwelling on the past was distracting from current-day issues.

“It’s up now. It’s not going anywhere. Revisiting and raking up the division of the 1980s is going to achieve nothing for the local people,” he said.

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