A contribution to the debate, by Joanne Hiley
For days after Margaret Thatcher’s death in April, news channels repeatedly showed footage of a little chiropractor clinic which sits at the entrance to North Parade, Grantham.
Their interest was in the stone plaque declaring the building to be her birthplace, and the subsequent information they could give about her origins living above her father’s grocery shop.
Whilst the corner of our town that viewers nationwide saw was indeed small, the sudden surge of interest and publicity must have been the most that Grantham had ever seen. Local shoppers were interviewed in Westgate. Programmes going deeper than quick news coverage featured interviews with older residents who knew the ‘Iron Lady’ before she was famous. Occasionally there was a tour of her secondary school, and I could watch camera crews focusing on various Thatcher-related areas that I’d known all about from my very first week there, in 2004.
It would be understandable then, for some to find a renewed sense of pride with our connection to the first female Prime Minister – and for the old question of a statue, which had already resurfaced shortly before her death, to suddenly carry more weight.
Margaret Thatcher’s name generates strong reactions not just nationwide but internationally, and so emphasising her part in the town’s history might add a reason for tourists and visitors to show interest in the town. Since a potential statue was refused public funding, much of the language used by the donations campaign at Grantham Museum has been focused on the bringing of the community together; the idea is that a statue funded by many people of the town to add Thatcher’s likeness to the attractive area in front of the Guildhall would represent local unity and pride.
However, both during her time in power and in the aftermath of her death, Margaret Thatcher has never been a symbol of unity. This became apparent in April as we quickly saw attention shift from the documentation of her life to the divisions emerging following her death. Thatcher supporters became horrified at a display of disrespectful rejoicing, whilst her critics angered at the lack of acknowledgement that for many she caused ongoing suffering. Even those interviewed on the streets of Grantham exhibited split opinion, some displaying pride but many others offering indifference or outright loathing.
Upon the publication of three potential designs for a statue, only 120 local people out of a population of 42 000 voted in favour of any of them on the Grantham Journal website. One of the designs, upon a plinth, is thought to be a way to prevent the vandalism which befell the white marble Thatcher statue in London in 2002. Such fierce disagreement over the nature of her legacy raises the question; do we really want to erect a tribute to an individual who remains divisive even in death?
It would seem to me that if, during a time of persistently miserable news headlines and an increasingly disaffected community we wish to bring local people together through a new public symbol, we should choose something which reflects optimism and togetherness rather than resentment and disharmony.