A statue of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher is to be unveiled in Grantham, where she was born and raised. The statue was designed by sculptor Douglas Jennings and commemorates the first female prime minister of Britain. In response, over 8,000 people have registered their interest in an “egg-throwing contest” advertised on Facebook.
Thatcher is, obviously, still a controversial figure. Seven years on from her death, she remains championed by many on the right and reviled by a great deal of the left. Those who are surprised by the backlash clearly haven’t yet realised that we are living in post-2016 Britain, where Remainers despise Brexiteers, conservatives look down on socialists and literally, everyone hates a centrist. In a move which sums up how polarised current political discourse is, organisers have reportedly decided to place the statue on a ten-foot-high plinth in order to protect it from vandals.
Yet, upon further reflection, it seems a pretty sad indictment of British political culture that such a large group might be willing to take time out of their day to go and throw eggs at a statue. Expressing dissatisfaction towards a monument is one thing – with good reason it can also impactful and raise awareness, as we saw earlier in the year with the statue of Edward Colston – but Thatcher died seven years ago. It will make no difference to her legacy should her likeness end up being covered in yolk.
Indeed, the person who will be most affected by the vandalism is the artist, who obviously put a great deal of time and effort into his sculpture. 2020 has not exactly been a vintage year for great art; the absurd swirl of whipped cream with a fly on it which now stands on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square is testament to that. I don’t think of myself as an art snob, but I would go so far as to say that Jennings’ Thatcher statue is slightly more aesthetically pleasing.
Grantham itself is situated within the safe Tory seat of Grantham and Stamford, although its MPs do appear to have a history of defecting to other parties. However, Grantham town itself reportedly has the largest Labour support in the constituency. So the backlash makes sense. But Thatcher was born and raised in Grantham. It is not like her statue is being erected near a mining site in County Durham, or on the Merseyside docks.
The reaction to the planned unveiling raises significant questions about how people will continue to react to monuments that they don’t like. Of course, we are a democratic country and citizens are allowed to protest against things that they don’t agree with. However, I would argue that there is a marked difference between protest and wanton vandalism. There is not a great deal that is meaningful about throwing eggs at a statue; it is a futile gesture with the sole purpose of degrading the target.
Whether or not the unveiling of the statue will go ahead remains to be seen. Having observed the current level of discontent though, I suspect that it will end up being cancelled. It seems, sadly, that rather than engaging in serious discussions or debate, the act of vandalising disagreeable artworks is becoming more and more normalised.