There has been a lot of talk recently in the press about Margaret Thatcher and her legacy. Obviously, the new film The Iron Lady has raised Lady Thatcher in the mind of the world, and with her ailing health and the current political environment, her legacy continues to dominate political debate.
There are two areas that interest me, The Labour Party’s attitude to the former prime minister, and how Grantham should recognise her achievements on a local level.
Firstly, the Labour Party should recognise Lady Thatcher’s greatest achievement. That is the breaking through a male dominated environment to become the leader of her party, and subsequently the first and only female prime minister of Great Britain. Both of these achievements are still sadly yet to be emulated by The Labour Party.
Margaret Thatcher’s politics and the value they have added to British society are disputed vehemently and that should still be the case. There is still much to be debated as to the value of the changes that were made, such as the privatisation of the water and energy companies, the deregulation of the financial services and the dilution of employment law. This will continue as generations come and go, however it is important that the UK develops its own direction in an ever-changing world without constantly harking back to the 1980’s.
Secondly, I was recently contacted by Stephen Beard of American Public Media who had travelled up to Grantham to interview local people about Margaret Thatcher. He had met a number of Conservative supporters and he was keen to get an alternative view of the former prime minister. So, I pointed him in the direction of our South Kesteven District Council Labour Group Leader Cllr. Ian Selby.
This was then followed up by a BBC report from Grantham gathering local views on whether Grantham should celebrate the fact that we are the birthplace of Lady Thatcher.
The views were interesting, and fairly mixed. Some showed that we should celebrate more, some recognised that she is not a universally popular figure. Others didn’t seem to recognise what she had actually done during her time in office.
The latter interests me. Do the younger generations know who Lady Thatcher was? Or for that matter do they know who Sir. John Major, James Callaghan or Harold Wilson was? Should they know, and should more be done to ensure that all generations understand what was done? Or is this the sort of thing that really only interests political historians?
Doing a quick Google search I tried to find what is done in towns around the country for the birthplace of Prime Ministers. I looked at Clement Attlee, and struggled to find anything. There are obviously exhibitions from the second world war but very little else. I know he was born in Putney in London and there is a green plaque at the address where he was born. I am sure other people may be able to correct me on this.
Grantham can and does recognise Margaret Thatcher was born in the town, and I do not believe that this is done in an apologetic way. There is a plaque that shows where she is born, and the museum (once re-opened) will include an exhibit of Margaret Thatcher. Whether the town should go as far as setting up a dedicated museum for her, and/or a statue is in my mind a weak idea.
A statue by definition celebrates the contribution to society of the individual. Former prime ministers are already commemorated by statue in the Houses of Westminster, as that is where they held office.
But there would have to be a strong argument that Lady Thatcher inexorably contributed either to the Grantham community or the UK society in a positive way to justify a statue in Grantham. I simply do not believe that argument is there.
Those that argue vociferously for a statue are nearly exclusively Conservative Party members who hold Lady Thatcher up on a pedestal and believe that nothing she did when Prime Minister can be criticised in any way. These are the type of people who I really do not want to be sat near in the cinema when Meryl Streep turns up on-screen for the first time.
I do believe that Grantham should ensure that when people visit the town, they have the opportunity to learn about Margaret Thatcher and this could add greatly to our tourism industry. It is important to remember that even though many may not agree with her politics, many do and also many simply seek out Grantham to learn about its notable figures including Margaret Thatcher. So, from a business aspect it is important that people have something to see when they come to Grantham.
So, in conclusion room should be made in Grantham to recognise that Margaret Thatcher was born in the town, but should fall well short of celebrating her politics. A statue is an ill-conceived idea as Lady Thatcher does not transcend politics. For all intents and purposes, she is the epitome of politics. Hence why she is still such a polarising figure.
However, Grantham should ensure that visitors and researchers know the important aspects of Margaret Thatcher’s history in Grantham. So a well-designed tourist trail and exhibition is key to providing a comprehensive overview.
Finally, the truth is there will never be enough in Grantham to satisfy the ardent Thatcher supporter, and anyone who disagrees with Thatcher’s politics would prefer very little recognition. However as time moves on, Grantham could take advantage of historical interest and publicity that comes with Margaret Thatcher.