The late Margaret Thatcher and everything that she stood for – democracy, a strong state and privatisation – is still a thorn in the side of many Britons, especially those who bore the brunt of her most stringent nationalisation policies. Her funeral cost the taxpayer £3.6 million, and £15 million is the figure that has been put forward to build a museum in her memory, again to be paid for by the taxpayer. It is a gross insult to Thatcher herself and to Britons that both of these avenues of commemoration have been set about against her wishes and are not privately funded in accordance with her beliefs.
There are some important questions to consider with regards to the structure and purpose of this museum. The “special relationship” between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan is legendary but to have the Thatcher Museum modelled on the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California is almost akin to connecting two parts of a heart-shaped-best-friends-charm, together forever. The friendship between Thatcher and Reagan should feature as part of her legacy within the museum but the structure of the building would be better to be modelled on herself and her ideals rather than imitate her pal’s.
The big question is what this museum will contain. The Thatcher Papers are an invaluable resource to historians and political scientists but they have already made their home at the Churchill College in Cambridge. There are only so many Red Boxes and sturdy handbags owned by Thatcher that can possibly deck-out an exhibition. Also, recently a tissue bearing her lipstick imprint was sold at auction for £1,950. Since her death in 2013 there has been an increase in such memorabilia being procured by private buyers; these artefacts could be proudly displayed in her public-funded museum. This is an irony that is surely not lost on the Iron Lady.
Moreover, creating this museum as an educational centre takes away resources and funding from other established museums that are already struggling in the current cultural climate. It is with great hypocrisy that the propect of the Thatcher Museum has been put forward. The current government’s decision to take a broad-sword to British culture whilst instigating a mammoth memorial to a stateswoman who is still vehemently despised is a great enigma that even Alan Turing would struggle to unravel.
Quite obviously the ultimate reason for constructing a museum in Thatcher’s honour is to ensure that her legacy lives on. Considering that she is still one of the most vilified politicians of all time, it stands to reason that her memory will live on past the life of her most vociferous critics. A statue in Parliament Square would be a more befitting memorial; her political importance is equal to her predecessors who stand there and it is close to her true home – Westminster.
The first female British prime minister and first British prime minister to become an ‘-ism’ should be commemorated by the British public in some way. Her role in ensuring that Britain remained a strong actor on the international stage, that Soviet Communism disappeared to the fringes of history and that the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States remained an important aspect to foreign policy, is extremely significant. Finding a memorial site and a structure that reflects the values and public opinion of the Iron Lady is tantamount and may take time, but the wait will be worthwhile to make sure that the tone is right.