In her lifetime, Margaret Thatcher was rarely caught with egg on her face. Quite the opposite: The first woman prime minister of the United Kingdom enjoyed more than two decades of praise for withering away social welfare programs in favor of corporate expansion. Today, Thatcherism still influences daily life in Britain, and public memorials in her name remain sites of protest.
On Sunday, May 15, a controversial new statue of Thatcher erected in her hometown of Grantham received a “shelling” of sorts just over an hour after its installation. Jeremy Webster, deputy arts director of Leicester University’s Attenborough Arts Centre, reportedly pelted the statue with eggs from behind a temporary fence. Spectators recall hearing an “Oi!” when one egg made contact.
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Soon after, Lincolnshire police arrived and installed two surveillance cameras. Conservative members of parliament and journalists went into a moral panic and called for a police investigation. The Daily Mail published Webster’s LinkedIn work history and information about his home, with the ensuing backlash leading him to disable his Twitter account. On Monday, Leicester University released a statement claiming it “does not condone any form of defacement and takes any act of defacement extremely seriously.”
In February 2019, a planning committee voted unanimously to approve £300,000 (~$374k) for the statue’s development. When a local council announced an additional £100,000 (~$125k) for an unveiling ceremony, a Facebook group proposed an “egg-throwing contest,” attracting 13,000 enthusiastic responses, per a Guardian report. More than 2,400 others expressed interest in “graffiti art,” protesting irresponsible public spending as cities like Grantham undergo a housing crisis.
Webster was among many critics on the scene, the Irish Examiner reported. Drivers booed out their windows in passing, shouting “Tear it down!” and “This is no good for Grantham.” On social media, responses ranged from supportive to flippant. Several people posted selfies from the statue’s base and condemned Webster’s actions, while some likened the yellow band around her neck to a noose. Others compared the incident to the 2002 beheading of another Thatcher statue in London.
“I think it would be a good idea to put Thatcher’s statue on a low loader and tow it slowly around the country so that we all have a chance to throw something at it,” one Twitter user wrote. Another posted sarcastically about “queues of people desperate to pee building up,” referencing when someone marked her gravesite as a “gender-neutral open space public toilet” on Google Maps. On Tuesday, multiple protesters set up stands selling eggs to honor what Thatcher “would have wanted” as a free-market capitalist.
The “Iron Lady” was cast in bronze by sculptor Douglas Jennings and stands on a 10-foot-high granite plinth. Westminster Council rejected original plans for the statue to be erected in London’s Parliament Square in 2018 after police warned of vandalism by a “motivated far-left movement.” A spokesperson for the Grantham Museum, which raised money for the statue, told the Guardian that the monument “helped the museum finances survive the COVID pandemic.”
Since her death in 2013, debates around Thatcher’s legacy reference her bludgeoning labor unions, starting the Falklands (Malvinas) War against Argentina, and disregarding victims of the AIDS crisis. Additionally, she slashed arts funding by more than four percent upon taking office and nearly three percent by her resignation in 1990. For Thatcherites who describe austerity as a “tough pill to swallow,” this will surely be a test of their own resolve.