Steven Fielding

Should Thatcher fall?

The monument to the Iron Lady was also likely to be targeted by yobs

Should Thatcher fall?
Thatcher's statue before it was egged (Getty images)
Text settings

It didn't take long for the first egg to hit. Just a few hours after Margaret Thatcher’s statue was delicately placed on its ten-foot plinth in her hometown of Grantham, it was subject to the first of what is likely to be many attacks. This egging – carried out by a middle-aged protester – was hardly a surprise. The statue was once set to be placed outside Parliament, but this plan was kiboshed by Westminster Council amidst fears it could attract 'civil disobedience and vandalism'.

Presumably it was hoped that by being plonked in the unassuming, out-of the way Lincolnshire town the statue would avoid such lèse-majesté. The leader of the local Tory South Kesteven District Council appears to have thought as much. Kelham Cooke said Thatcher's statue ‘will be a talking point for generations to come’ and provoke the kind of debate about her legacy that does not involve eggs. His was always a vain hope. 

The statue’s arrival in Grantham was delayed by Covid, and in the meantime such monuments have become prominent flashpoints in the culture wars. In the United States, memorials of long forgotten Confederate generals became lightning rods for Black Lives Matter activists; some have now been taken down. 

Nearer to home, protesters pushed Edward Colston’s statue into Bristol harbour due to his links to the slave trade. In Parliament Square, the Winston Churchill statue has been fought over between demonstrators of left and right leading authorities to box it up during the fraught summer of 2020.

So was pushing ahead with a statue of Thatcher really a wise idea? If we wish to debate the past and the contribution of politicians like the Iron Lady there are surely better ways to accomplish that task, especially in the case of a person as controversial as Thatcher. 

Even Thatcher's fans should welcome an alternative monument to their heroine. A statue in itself, after all, tells us nothing about a person, other than that enough people clubbed together to erect it. For a new generation of people growing up, who did not know life under Thatcher, it tells them little about the reasons why she has become so admired – and so detested – by so many. Thatcher’s statue will not change how people think of her: it can only be a catalyst for existing strongly held sentiments and emotions. 

In any case, we already have a fine monument to Thatcher: the website of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation. This offers free access to thousands of documents which reveal more about her than 100 statues ever could. It also helps puncture some stereotypes beloved of her critics and fans, such as her 1987 claim that there was ‘no such thing as society’. It's true that she uttered those words, but the full transcript of her interview with Woman’s Own reveals it to be a more nuanced and less hard-hearted statement than it appears out of context.

So if any good can come out of this act of vandalism, perhaps it's this: Thatcher's admirers and her critics might be able to agree that it's time to stop erecting statues.

Written bySteven Fielding

Steven Fielding is Professor of Political History at the University of Nottingham. He co-presents the Zeitgeist Tapes podcast

Topics in this articlePolitics