DECISIONS taken by South Kesteven District Council rarely have significance beyond that small part of Lincolnshire. This week, however, the granting of an application for planning permission means that Margaret Thatcher will return to her home town of Grantham, only now the Iron Lady will be cast in bronze and standing atop a plinth to a height of over 20 feet.
The privately funded memorial statue, by sculptor Douglas Jennings, was originally intended for Parliament Square but twice was rejected by Westminster Council. The case officer was a Mr Clegg who, despite that unfortunate surname, no doubt acted with complete impartiality.
In January 2018 the report by Westminster’s Planning Department had provided the council sub-committee with various reasons to reject the second application: permission for a new public memorial is not normally granted within ten years of the subject’s death (Baroness Thatcher died in 2013); the proposed location being inside a ‘Monument Saturation Zone’; there already being a Thatcher statue in the House of Commons; and no evidence of support by her family.
The planners’ briefing note also contained the strange and subjective objection: ‘There is a view that the depiction of the figure in her state robes does not reflect her role as Prime Minister, for which she is being memorialised, and therefore is an inappropriate depiction of the subject.’
Would it have made a difference had Maggie been depicted in a twinset with complementary handbag? Be that as it may, to the untrained eye of this philistine writer, Douglas Jennings’s work is an impressive sculpture. At the very least, the likeness is unmistakable; whatever other reactions there are to the Thatcher monument, it will not be ridiculed – unlike, for example, the recent statue of Victoria Wood which, with its pudding basin haircut, has been compared to former England footballer Peter Beardsley.
Westminster Council rejected the re-application despite the proposed 13ft granite plinth having twice been redesigned ‘on the advice of the Metropolitan Police to minimise any ledges or other protuberance that could be used as climbing aids’; it also incorporated ‘sockets . . . to accommodate scaffold poles to allow the statue to be more easily encased in hoardings during demonstrations or other potentially sensitive times’.
No one is so naïve as to imagine that protesters in Central London would have regarded a Thatcher monument as just a backdrop for selfies: amongst demonstrators there would be many potential desecrators. Nonetheless, regardless of the official reasons why the ‘particular circumstances of the proposal do not comply’, the suspicion remains that Westminster Council cravenly caved in to the threat of the statue becoming a magnet for ‘civil disobedience and vandalism’.
Thankfully, and despite significant internal opposition, there is sufficient spine within South Kesteven Council to defy the wishful thinking contained in the Guardian headline: ‘A statue of Margaret Thatcher? No plinth will be too high for the vandals.’
A vox pop on the streets of Grantham recorded opinions ranging from ‘the town should be proud’ to ‘I wish she’d never been born’.
Despite there being at least one person in Grantham who wishes that Beatrice and Alfred Roberts had not reproduced, the South Kesteven planners’ report to a council committee notes: ‘In respect of local sentiment we would not suggest there is any significant threat to the installation of the statue locally.’ However, it also warns: ‘In general there remains a motivated far-Left movement across the UK (though not so much in Lincolnshire) who may be committed to public activism . . . it still remains the possibility that any public statue of Baroness Thatcher would be a likely target for politically motivated vandals.’
The South Kesteven report also contains the curious sentence: ‘Margaret Thatcher does however maintain an element of emblematic significance to many on the Left and the passage of time does [sic] seem to have diminished that intensity of feeling.’ Although press coverage reported those words verbatim, the syntax leads the reader to expect a ‘does not’ and for the sentence to reach the opposite conclusion.
One man who believes the ill-will has not diminished is George Galloway. Unlikely to scale the Thatcher monument himself but evidently sympathetic to any protester who might, Galloway told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that ‘the shrine . . . is a matter for private devotion’ and he damned its forthcoming placement in Grantham as a ‘provocation to tens of millions of people still alive in Britain today who suffered . . . put it up in Barnsley or in South Wales or in the post-industrial Britain that she left literally as a human slagheap’.
Jonathan Aitken retorted that garrulous George was ‘talking hot air about a minority position which is far smaller than he seems to think’. Surprisingly, though, it was presenter Piers Morgan who more forcefully challenged Galloway and made the case for the ‘trailblazer’ being suitably commemorated in her home town: ‘Margaret Thatcher, I would argue, is as popular with those who loved her and admired her as she is hated by those who despised her. But there are actually millions of people who felt that she brought a bit of backbone to the country, a bit of toughness and a bit of resilience.’
Back in Lincolnshire, a sour Labour councillor named Charmaine Morgan was widely quoted: ‘The statue is currently being held in an out of sight, secret location. Perhaps it should stay there.’ Another unnamed councillor alternatively proposed that to minimise the threat of vandalism to the statue it should be located ‘in the middle of a pond’.
The latter suggestion was reported as though it were a crank comment. But had the pond location been taken seriously, imagine the apoplexy on the Left were Margaret Thatcher to be symbolised walking on water.