Thatcher's home town at odds over plan for statue of 'the beast'

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The Independent Online

In Grantham town square stands a statue. Swathed in robes, Sir Isaac Newton has been master of all he surveys since he was moulded from a Russian cannon captured in the Crimean War. But if local politicians get their way, the great man may have to share the limelight: plans are afoot for a life-sized sculpture of the Lincolnshire town's most famous daughter, Baroness Thatcher.

The idea is the brainchild of Quentin Davies, MP for Grantham and Stamford. Inspired by news that the House of Commons was seeking a temporary home for an 8ft marble of the Iron Lady by sculptor Neil Simmons, he spent months lobbying for it to be placed in the town of her birth.

However, the much-debated two-ton piece, prematurely commissioned for a vacant plinth in the members' lobby, will be moved sooner than envisaged. Until the rules were changed last month, statues of former prime ministers were barred from the Commons until five years after their deaths. Now, Lady Thatcher's statue can expect to join her peers within three years, and in the meantime is likely to reside at London's Guildhall.

Undeterred, Mr Davies and his allies on South Kesteven council have embarked on a more ambitious initiative: honouring Lady Thatcher with a statue, and what's more a permanent one.

The news has received a mixed reception from the town's 32,000 inhabitants. Objectors include a maverick Labour councillor, Ian Selby, who attracted national headlines recently by slipping on a latex Thatcher mask while posing for an official photograph with his colleagues. His repeated protests have fuelled an angry debate on the letters page of the Grantham Journal.

A quick straw poll confirmed that the return of the prodigal daughter would not be universally welcomed. A truck driver, Terry Short, 56, said indignantly: "She's never had anything to do with Grantham since she left." His wife, Alison, 40, added: "She's a beast. Why on earth would we want a statue of her? There are plenty of worthy people who deserve to be honoured first. Nicholas Parsons was from Grantham."

Ian Johnstone, 53, observed: "The only thing she's ever given this town is the poll tax. The last time she was here she only came to promote her autobiography."

Since Lady Thatcher left the town, her standing there has been variable to say the least. When her father's famous corner shop was turned into a restaurant named Thatcher's, vandals lost little time in eliminating the lettering on the windows with a brick.

Still, she is far from being the only famous figure to provoke mixed reactions in her home town. The poet Philip Larkin was dismissive about Coventry, where he said his "childhood was unspent"; it was a decade after his death before he was grudgingly given a plaque at the railway station. And novelist Beryl Bainbridge outraged fellow scousers by saying their accent was "ugly and toneless" and that their children should have elocution lessons.