Why Margaret Thatcher's hometown still won't honor her

Grantham, England, has mixed feelings about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Many in the town still feel betrayed by her.

Grantham, a picturesque English market town of 35,000 about an hour north of London by train, has its fair share of landmarks to honor the area's famous residents.

There's Edith Smith Way, recognizing Edith Smith, England's first policewoman. There's Belvoir Castle, a nearby sprawling hillside estate and museum occupied by the Duke and Duchess of Rutland. And, more famously, there's Woolsthrope Manor, the close-by former home of Sir Isaac Newton, who went to school in Grantham and currently has a bronze statue there erected in his honor.

But there's one famous former resident of Grantham who's been left out of the fold — excluded on purpose, in fact.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, arguably Grantham's most important and well-known figure, is persona non grata in the town. In fact, Grantham is so conflicted about Thatcher that it has left her statue sitting in storage since it was defaced while on exhibit in London in 2002.

The snub, according to former South Kesteven District Council member John Hiley, is political but also rooted in Grantham's history.

"She has her admirers as well as people who feel that her policies caused the collapse of industry, bringing widespread unemployment," Hiley told MSN News.

When Thatcher came to power, the town had long been an industrial district that voted for the Labour Party. Thatcher, a conservative anti-unionist, rankled many Granthamites with her policies. According to Hiley, Thatcher crushed the Trades Union, which led to violent confrontations between coal miners and police in neighboring communities. She also alienated working-class Grantham residents when she introduced a flat-rate community charge tax that lowered rates for only the wealthiest Brits.

While Hiley acknowledges that Thatcher's swift and heavy-handed actions during the Falklands War won her popularity throughout England, he says she struggled to win unequivocal support in Grantham. 

Ray Wootten, Grantham's former mayor, was involved in those union disputes. While he salutes Thatcher's strength of character and calls for more attention to be paid to how she improved England's standing in the world, he also admits there still is a healthy contingent of people in Grantham who believe Thatcher's policies abandoned them.

"Grantham is a very divided town, and there are many people who are hostile to her and what she stood for. … Some residents feel that she turned her back on Grantham and never came back," he told MSN News.

While modern-day resentment toward Thatcher in Grantham may surround her economic policies, some point to allegations made against Thatcher’s father. He was accused by a former 15-year-old employee of repeated sexual molestation, allegedly groping her on multiple occasions. He was never convicted of any crime, however.

Still, there are many in the small town who were none too pleased that Thatcher ran on a family values platform when her father was widely seen as a sexual deviant.

Today, there are few traces of Thatcher in Grantham. According to Der Spiegel, her former home is now a chiropractic clinic that has only a plaque to signify Thatcher's time there. Reportedly, clinic staff members scorn visitors who ask about seeing her former residence.  

Some in Grantham, however, wish to see Thatcher remembered more fondly, including Wootten, who would like the city to erect a monument to Thatcher, as it did for Newton.

"I believe that Grantham does not do enough to celebrate her success," he said.

Jayne Robb, manager of the Grantham Museum, believes that when Thatcher dies — she's currently 87 and suffering from dementia — Grantham will see a revived interest in memorializing her.

"When she passes away, the interest in Grantham will be huge," Robb told Der Spiegel.

"We don't want a shrine. But we want to depoliticize her and hold her up as a local figure. We have Newton, and we have Thatcher. We need to promote both of them," she said.


MSN News on Facebook and Twitter

Stay up to date on breaking news and current events.

Friend us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/news.msn

Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msnnews