While Downing Street is trying to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, authorities in Grantham, a small town in Lincolnshire, are faced with an equally arduous task – to erect or not erect a statue commemorating former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Initially, it should have stood in central London, however, the Westminster council rejected the idea, fearing that the statue would be vandalised during public protests.
It was then decided to put the statue in Thatcher's hometown. After a short debate the local council approved the plan. That was in 2018, two years before the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc and caused the worst economic recession since the Second World War. Recently, the town's council approved an unveiling ceremony for the statue, which will cost 100,000 pounds ($134,000). The decision caused anger among politicians and members of the public.
The Labour Party proposed to simply place the statue in Grantham's museum.
"We find that in the middle of a pandemic, when the public coffers both on a national level and a local level, are emptying very quickly, their sense of priorities to be absolutely perverse. She was arguably the most divisive prime minister this country's ever had and this is an incredibly divisive decision by the local Tories", said Lee Steptoe, chair of Grantham Labour.
Amanda Schonhut, director of fundraising for the Grantham Museum, run by the Grantham Community Heritage Association, described the debate on Thatcher's statue as a "mini-Brexit". She specifically noted that the money for the ceremony would come from private donations – businesses and individuals.
The information, however, failed to pacify people, who oppose the idea of erecting a statue to the late PM.
Adam Burgess, a resident from Stamford, located nearby Grantham, said he was deeply upset by the decision to spend money on the unveiling ceremony, signaling that the money could have been spent on issues of primary importance.
"In the area we're living in we're seeing a huge number of homeless people, we're seeing food banks springing up all over the place. There's got to be better ways to spend that money. To erect a statue of someone who was so divisive and caused a lot of heartache for the working class just seemed like a pretty s**t decision, to be honest", Burgess said.
Other residents disagree and believe the council made the right decision when it decided to honour Baroness Thatcher with a statue.
"It's a relatively small town that has produced somebody that is known in the world stage and will be in the history books. I appreciate there are lots of different views on Margaret Thatcher, she is a very controversial figure, but it's a question of achievement. She achieved something when becoming the first woman prime minister", said Ralph Harrison, a retired civil servant who lives in Grantham and added that he was pleased that the statue will be put up soon.
Another resident of the town Andrew Rudd said that although he detested Thatcher's policies and would have spent money on different things he doesn't oppose the council's decision.
"However as the first female PM and of Grantham I can see that a statue can be justified", Rudd said.
Tensions continue to run high in Grantham as thousands of people plan to protest during the unveiling ceremony. According to The Independent, 12,800 people on Facebook voiced their interest to participate in an "egg-throwing contest" held on the day the statue is unveiled, with over 2,300 individuals saying they will attend the event.
Margaret Thatcher is Britain’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that post. For her firm belief that one should never compromise on deeply held convictions she earned the nickname the Iron Lady. During her first term she introduced a series of economic policies intended to combat unemployment and recession. Although the policies prompted widespread criticism, the country's economy started to recover three years after she assumed office.
The nation's victory in the Falklands War earned her even more support from voters. However, her opposition to trade unions and what critics described as draconian and militaristic policies in the sectarian conflict dubbed the Troubles prompted fierce backlash.
After serving nearly 11 years as prime minister she resigned after a fellow MP launched a challenge to her leadership.