Jo Swinson is right on Thatcher statue – women’s achievements must be remembered

I was incensed to read this article in the Independent about our 30th anniversary. It’s based on interviews with 2 former leaders, Tim Farron and Paddy Ashdown and with one other person, Nick Clegg’s former staffer, James McGrory.

In the whole article, there isn’t even the merest hint of a mention of the women who helped build this party. Nothing about Shirley Williams. Nothing about Diana Maddock’s amazing victory in the 1993 Christchurch by-election. Nothing about Sandra Gidley’s unexpected victory in Romsey in 2000. Nothing about Sarah Teather’s ground-breaking by-election victory in Brent in the wake of the Iraq war. Nothing about Sarah Olney’s by-election victory showing we were back in the game. Nothing about Jo Swinson building up a seat and winning it at 25 and subsequently becoming the first Lib Dem woman to attend Cabinet. Nothing about our Presidents Shirley, Diana, Ros Scott and Sal Brinton. Nothing about how Lynne Featherstone built up her Hornsey and Wood Green seat. Nothing about the present day Lib Dem campaigners like Elaine Bagshaw.

I’m also updating this to add Kirsty Williams as per the first comment. She served the party so well as Welsh leader and is currently our only Lib Dem member of a Government. Her pioneering More Nurses law made Welsh hospitals safer.

Women have been at the forefront of some of the party’s most pivotal moments. Why not talk to some of them? I have come up with ten of them off the top of my head in about half a minute.

And if we think that’s bad, the article about our history on our own party website doesn’t mention a woman until its penultimate paragraph.

It was ever thus. A bloke does something and there’s statues everywhere. A woman takes a major step forward and does not get the same recognition. I loathe and detest virtually everything Margaret Thatcher stood for, but she was the first woman Prime Minister of this country.  Thatcher got me into politics because I so passionately opposed what she was doing to the country. That’s why I agree with Jo Swinson, who argues in today’s Mail on Sunday that Thatcher should have a statue in Parliament Square:

Maybe they think one out of twelve is enough, that they’ve ticked the woman box with the addition of Millicent Fawcett?

Apparently one of the reasons given for refusal was the state robes Thatcher would have been wearing.

Even in death, it seems there are no limits to how society judges women by how they look and what they wear.

She went on to say what Thatcher being PM told her:

While I am no Margaret Thatcher fan, there is one thing in particular for which I do thank her.

As a little girl growing up in the 1980s, it never even crossed my mind to doubt that a woman could be Prime Minister.

Seeing a woman in charge, running the country was completely normal to me.

That achievement alone – for me and my whole generation – is more than significant enough to warrant a prominent statue in our public realm.

And the simple power of being the first woman Prime Minister is so often dismissed in the understandable fury about Thatcherite policies.

The only part here I’d slightly disagree with Jo is that Thatcher did absolutely nothing to help other women get ahead in politics. Many women, like Jo and Harriet Harman, devote a huge amount of time to helping and supporting others get ahead but Thatcher pulled up the ladder after her. Regardless of that, though, she deserves to be recognised for being our first woman and longest serving 20th century PM.

Jo replied when I asked her about that part on Twitter:

We must make sure that our own women aren’t written out of our history either.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • No explicit mention of Kirsty Williams? The only lib dem currently in office and yet not name checked in the article on the party site or above. And in the week of St David’s day!

    We seem to be in a time where statues are considered a stamp of approval rather than recognition of impact, be that good or potentially bad, and thus many statues are being challenged with some torn down. Perhaps a way around this would be, for example, Thatcher’s statue to go ahead due to her impact but 200 words on each side of the plinth given to reflect how she is seen differently by different parts of the electorate to better reflect her long, complex and divisive legacy.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 4th Mar '18 - 11:18am

    Heavens – you are right on Kirsty. She is amazing – and her pioneering more nurses law has made Welsh hospitals safer.

  • Nothing about our future leader Christine Jardine either.

  • With respect, Jo should ask surviving members of the brave women support groups in the miners strike in 1983/84 what they think of a statue to Mrs. Thatcher.

    2018 gender issues should not be allowed to cover up the wasteland created in former mining areas by the Thatcher Government. The failure to provide anything to replace the industry and the devastation it brought to families in those areas was blinkered cruel and unforgivable.

  • I grew up in a world where everyone around me knew that Thatcher was a terrible human being, and yet I have to echo Jo’s realisation that I also grew up in a world where it didn’t occur to me that being Prime Minister was a man’s job. You can argue that she wasn’t supportive of other women in politics, and that having a female PM masked the severity of sexism within the political system, but simply by doing the job, she challenged a lot of prejudice.

    I can’t say I am a huge fan of statues in the first place, but when we have so many of men all over the place, and a large number of them could be described as terrible human beings, it seems petty to want to resist a statue of Thatcher. I like the idea that any new statue should come with balanced information about them. I agree that statues should be seen as a sign of impact, and a marker of our history, rather than how universally loved the person may be.

    Needless to say, the usual suspects are claiming that Jo’s support of a statue equates to support for Thatcher’s policies, but given that Jo has been very clear that isn’t the case, they are just advertising their own tribal approach to politics, and in many cases, their own lack of regard for the value of representation within politics.

  • David: I expect quite a lot of those women are already thinning about creative defacements which could be applied to such a statue.

    I am in full agreement with DJ’s second paragraph, really.

    My main issue with this article is the organ it appears in.

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 4th Mar '18 - 1:02pm

    Sorry I disagree with a statue for Thatcher. I’m sure those growing up as little girls thought it’s not unusual to have a female PM, but what difference did she make for the lives of millions of women? Millicent Fawcett, campaigned & changed our democracy forever, & deserves to be honoured. Margaret Thatcher, other than achieving high office for herself, left a legacy of unleashing a culture of unfettered greed, high unemployment that destroyed communities, & ‘no such thing as society’ How exactly did she change anything for ordinary women? She’s the reason I got involved in community politics in the ’80s & politics in the ’90s, to fight for social justice & rights for women & minorites. All the people she trampled over.

  • Fubar Saunders 4th Mar '18 - 1:21pm

    “Thatcher pulled up the ladder after her. ”

    Er… how exactly did you work that out? Considering the tories have had two female PM’s, Labour had numerous women in Cabinet posts between 1997 and 2010 and if I recall rightly, the Liberals have never had a female leader??

    How does any of that equate to Thatcher pulling the ladder up, unless its just something that has to be added to remind the readership that despite spending five years in Coalition with them that Paragraph 1 of the mission statement is to hate the Tories?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 4th Mar '18 - 1:26pm

    @Fubar: It is well-recognised that she did nothing to help other women in the Conservative Party. It was David Cameron who actually made their gender balance and overall diversity better.

    And I have never said that our record on diversity – and indeed putting a woman in the Cabinet – is anything to be proud of.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Mar '18 - 2:02pm

    A very good piece, particularly on the focus of the lack of emphasis on equality of gender, absurd to miss the terrific women involved in the history of this party, and the present, I am particularly keen on Sal Brinton being mentioned, a woman, and with a disability, and one who has emerged, a little older than is often so, very positive also. I would have backed Tessa Munt for a bigger role, and think we need to utilise Floella Benjamin far more in the media especially as her gifts are there .

    I agree with both articles and am supportive of the view for a statue of Thatcher. I think too much hate of her is absurd. Many I admire, like Sir Peter Ustinov, a lifelong Liberal voter, said though her politics put them off her, she did not, as in personal life she was a very decent woman, capable of kindness and warmth. Reagan was similar.

    As a very divisive and ideological leader , I spent my youth opposing her, marching to ” Maggie Maggie ,Maggie, out , out, out!”

    But her achievements, yes as the first woman pm, but quite independent of that, were significant, even if we dislike the policies. A statue is fine if in the correct place. I worry about the defacing of one in too public a position.

    I am an advocate , this and any year but this one as the twenty fifth anniversary of her passing from this world, of a statue of Audrey Hepburn, a wonderful person, a marvellous actress, a great ambassador , for children, in her UNICEF, work, and , a British citizen overlooked for honours from the country whose passport she had since settling here having struggled in war torn Holland.

  • I grew up in a town surrounded by mills that were crumbling into decrepitude before, during, and after Mrs Thatches premiership. So I sometimes wonder what all the fuss was about. The only person I’ve heard of with any idea what to do about northern England was the one who came up with the Northern Powerhouse thing, and he was a Tory.

    (And as he is gone now, we may expect nature to continue to take its course.)

  • Angela Kewell 4th Mar '18 - 2:50pm

    May I put another side to the feeling that Mrs Thatcher did more harm than good. Let me start with the miners strike. Mrs thatcher closed fewer mines than the labour governments under Wilson and Callaghan. I listened to a wonderful talk by Jo Gormley who at that time led the Miners Union. He expressly said that many mines needn’t be closed but the coal board was facing pressure from Polish mines and in future Chinese mines which would make British mines too expensive. He wanted investment in the mining communities and he was fearful that when he retired the militant Scargill would take over and ruin all his hard work. Mr Scargill new what had been agreed but wanted to bring down a Conservative Government because he had been brought up to abhor Tories.

    I was never particularly political until I wanted to become a printer. I was not allowed as a woman to be trained in what was then a closed union where all printers were from the same families or communities. Jobs for the boys. I was 24yrs old and my parents paid for me to go to America to be trained. However, when I returned I couldn’t open my own business or be employed unless a joined a union. Then Mrs Thatcher gained power and my whole life turned around. Suddenly I could buy my own home as a single woman without my father being my guarantor. I could choose whichever profession I wanted without recrimination or block.

    Mrs Thatcher won an incredibly important victory over Scargill. It wasn’t just the breaking up of union power. It was showing women that they were as strong and capable as men. It was showing women they could indeed have choices and be proud of those choices. It was psychologically a huge step for women. Arguably as big as Millicent Fawcett work because without saying anything about feminism or quotas or all women shortlists, it opened the door for bright, intelligent woman to walk through the so called glass ceiling. No one needed play the victim. No one needed to justify their ambition. It was accepted that the Grantham girl done good.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Mar '18 - 3:54pm


    As you seem to be new here, that is a very interesting comment, look forward to more from you.

    As someone who struggled as a young performer in the early nineties fresh out of university, the change away from a closed shop in Equity, the performers and entertainment trade union, to a very much more open process, was important, I joined Equity , and could not a few years ealier. The pre entry closed shop was and is an infringement of rights, the post entry , lousy but in an era of full employment or a more precarious profession, at least understandable , but wrong also.

    The Thatcher governments took certain essential classical liberal steps, but went on economics down a laissez faire route wholly one sided, and then ceased to be classical liberal in any way, with ghastly policies like section 28.

    The era was as you say , predicated on changes already happening, your situation trying to become a printer , a terrific inspiring story , watch The Angry Silence , a film of Richard Attenborough, and Brian Forbes , and I’m Aright Jack, with Peter Sellers, these show both sides of this subject in each, but the conclusion, is, no to abuse of power , in any area, including unions.

  • Geoffrey Payne 4th Mar '18 - 7:14pm

    I agree with Meral. Margaret Thatcher was an incredibly divisive leader and we should no more put up a statue of her as we would Nigel Farage. She hated feminism and what she stood for was the opposite of Liberalism. Her cabinet was a horror show including the likes of Norman Tebbit, Cecil Parkinson, Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph. And note that the article was in the Daily Mail. Thats right, the Daily Mail.

  • You’re absolutely right about the women who helped and continue to build the party – but the article doesn’t really cover much at all to be fair. Blame The Independent for that.

    Its a fairly brief article that sets the scene with the party’s formation and Paddy Ashdown becoming leader, and then jumps almost straight to an overview of Nick Clegg’s success in 2010 and the party’s subsequent decline in fortunes. There are a couple of comments from Paddy Ashdown and Tim Farron interspersed throughout the article and that’s pretty much that. I don’t see any deliberate airbrushing of history to be honest.

    With regards to the Maggie Thatcher statue, as much as I dislike her, for her significance as a political figure she deserves one just as much as those already erected in Parliament Square.

    However, I find Jo’s comments to be more than a bit misleading. Concerns over how she would be dressed were hardly the main reason for the refusal and those concerns don’t actually have anything to do with sexism.

  • Galen Milne 4th Mar '18 - 10:27pm

    I disagree with Jo on this one. The wreckage Thatcher created in many communities, particularly mining villages across the UK is unforgivable as it’s now a lasting legacy. It would be the equivalent to the Duke of Sutherland’s statue in the north of Scotland and I suspect it would be wrecked within 12 months of creation.

  • I’m not much of a statue person either. Whilst I understand what both Jo and Caron are getting at in their well-intentioned way, I really think at this time it’s a pretty unhelpful contribution. “We must have a monument to Maggie” in a newspaper that makes many of us feel sick is not the most obvious way to differentiate ourselves from the Tories in these post-coalition times when we need to recover some of the centre-left votes that we lost in droves in 2015 and 2017.

  • On the one hand she was an awful PM, but on the other we have statues of other awful PMs. Personally, I can’t work up any enthusiasm for the project and see it more as pandering to a Tory attempt to further deify/solidify the already over inflated iconography of the Iron Lady than as an equality issues.

  • Allan Brame 5th Mar '18 - 7:56am

    “And note that the article was in the Daily Mail. Thats right, the Daily Mail.”

    Actually that’s wrong. According to the original post it was in the Mail on Sunday.

    Not the same thing

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 5th Mar '18 - 8:10am

    @PeterBlack – totally agree. What a headline – ‘Liberal Democrats call for Thatcher statue’ – we aren’t. So many important issues in society we need to highlight. This isn’t one of them.

  • Jayne mansfield 5th Mar '18 - 8:30am

    When remembering women’s achievements, Margaret Thatcher was hardly a role model for all women. She represented the achievement of a woman who ‘married well’ and by her own admission could not have had the life she had in politics, given her traditional views on motherhood, without a good nanny for her children.

    By her own admission, Margaret Thatcher said that she was not a feminist, and she demonstrated her complete lack of understanding of the lives and barriers to achievement facing , not only women but men, who did not share in her good fortune.

    Margaret Thatcher ‘Women in a changing world 1982’ –

    ‘The battle for women’s rights has been largely won. The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone for ever. And I hope they are. I hated those strident tones that one heard from some women’s libbers’.

    We all know that she was Alf Robert’s daughter, I have had to check whether she had a mother during her formative years.

    Margaret Thatcher made me feel ashamed to be a woman.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Mar '18 - 2:10pm

    I agree with Peter and Meral , a statue is in my view only justified, not a priority, so why the emphasis from Jo Swinson, and thus the association with this. This article makes sense , because it is a story, but the fact , as mentioned, this is in the Daily Mail and is the whole thrust of the piece , makes me wonder, as with the coalition, how much political savvy the individual Liberal Democrats often demonstrate.

  • Paul Pettinger 5th Mar '18 - 3:08pm

    I think this is politically reckless. Very little good and a great deal of damage can come from what Jo has said. The Coalition era highlights how senior Lib Dems need to stop making big errors and for the rest of us to not double down and defend damaging decisions from our own side

  • Caron – incensed ? Really ? I mean, really ?
    The journalist who wrote the Independend piece has chosen to do so through the prism of party leaders. Only Alistair Campbell and I think one other “non leader” get a mention and, naturally, Margaret Thatcher does. That’s a very traditional approach to history, I conceed. No mention of party presidents, spokespeople, leading activists, people who won great by-election victories, be they male or female.
    A similar article written thirty years hence will, I hope, refer to the achievements of our women leaders to come but we can’t, we mustn’t , rewrite history to serve an agenda, however worthy.
    And no… statue to Thatcher, the most decisive politician of the past 100 years.

  • I also got it wrong re the Daily Mail and accept Allan’s point that though the DM and MoS are from the same stable, they’re not the same editorially. (The MoS supported Remain.) However, I still think this is potentially damaging for us, reinforcing the argument of many on the left that we’re still pretty close to the Tories. It’s played out pretty badly on social media, too.

  • Ruth Bright 5th Mar '18 - 11:30pm

    Finally caught up with the piece on party history on our own website. Caron is absolutely right. Mind you the summary was prepared by the Liberal History Group who have “previous” on this. Remember the Liberal Leaders’ book? 24 chapters, 24 writers – all men!

  • Richard Taylor 6th Mar '18 - 10:24am

    We should think about what others would think about such a statue. Thatchers
    supporters want such a statue because think she was a great person due to her divisive policies. If such a statue was erected it would be seen as in memory of her legacy of greed and inequality.
    Jo and a few others might see it as a monument to a groundbreaking woman. Not many would, certainly not manyreaders of the Daily Mail.

  • David Evans 6th Mar '18 - 12:26pm

    Indeed Women’s achievements must be remembered. But what exactly other than become PM did Margaret Thatcher do that Lib Dems could regard as an achievement worthy of recognition?

  • Joe Otten 6th Mar ’18 – 12:23pm….

    Still any excuse to berate Corbyn/Labour…

    Thatcher’s sex was an accident of birth; the result of her divisive policies were her own ‘achievement’ and her legacy!

  • David Evans 6th Mar '18 - 1:01pm

    Jo perhaps it was nothing to do with her being a woman and a lot to do with the fact that she (and the men she surrounded herself with) deliberately destroyed whole communities – men, women and children. In Yorkshire, Lancashire, Durham, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, South Wales etc.. Curiously they also were communities that didn’t vote Conservative.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '18 - 2:07pm

    Andrew Page

    Here is one who makes comments we must read and absorb. Andrew shows us why if Jo Swnison wants to be leader she needs to do more than turn every issue into a matter of gender which was not her way once but seems to be even though she is foreign affairs spokesperson , I have, unless criticising Trump, often on gender attitudes again, not heard much on international affairs.

    Jo needs to take a leaf out of the book of Shirley Williams and see equal power as far more likely when uniting people for a cause or argument regardless of the issue. Her attitude and intention , as with her personality and ability, is positive, but she needs to broaden her topics or some in the media and public might not see her as what a Liberal Democrat politician needs to be, someone who unifies and finds the truth in every given situation. If this is as Andrew states, Jo is missing the point. I only knew about the clothes from her comments, if they are objected to , and the statue design, only by Thatchers family, this is a storm in a teacup and one we should not be associated with at all as it is a personal not political matter.

  • Ruth Bright 6th Mar '18 - 5:08pm

    Lorenzo – there is nothing narrow or divisive about Swinson choosing to campaign on some of greatest injustices of our time like the mutilation of women or rape as a weapon of war. Gender is a huge factor in her foreign affairs brief. Recognising that is not narrowing matters down but broadening matters out to speak out for the truly voiceless.

  • Peter Martin 6th Mar '18 - 6:20pm

    @ Joe Otten,

    It’s interesting to see how the sensible centrist pragmatic liberals andsocial democrats are doing in Europe compared to the unelectable radicals like Corbyn!

  • The big lesson for any aspiring politician in this is to do your homework before launching out with a controversial statement.

    As Andrew Page and Lorenzo Cherin have confirmed, Mrs. Thatcher’s family objected to Westminster Council about the form the statue was to take. Westminster Council (which is Conservative controlled by a large majority) unsurprisingly state they do not object to the statue in principle.

    I had a painful experience yesterday when I visited the dentist – reading the Daily Telegraph in the waiting room. Harry Yorke, Political Correspondent, wrote, ‘the deputy Leader of the Lib Dems …has accused those of opposing it of being “pretty sexist”…. and that …. the debate over the statue had been marred by a “whiff of misogyny” as she expressed her disappointment at the decision by Westminster Council to reject the plan’.

    For me, one must ask how many statues does one need ? Mrs. Thatcher has a huge statue in the Palace of Westminster, one in the Guildhall, one in Grantham, one in Hillside College, Michigan, and of course, one in the Falklands. There seems to be more job creation in the sculpting industry than in the old mining areas.

    Raw Video: ‘Iron Lady’ Unveils Bronze Likeness – YouTube
    Video for thatcher unveils statue you tube▶ 1:14
    25 Aug 2008 – Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher unveiled a statue of herself at the House of Commons …

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '18 - 7:34pm


    I would support everything you add, but if our deputy leader has been addressing these very important issues, rather than statue publicity for Thatcher and the issues of recent coverage , eg.,Presidents club, I have not seen that in anything on here , which I rely on as a better way of finding out such news than the media in other outlets. I am sure you are correct, in which case let’s hear about those.

    Often her contribution to this debate is designed to include rather than divide, which is evident in intention if sometimes less in effect.

    My saying as many positives, the word I used is her qualities are positive,about her, must not go overlooked.

    I think it a pity that all the worst elements of men seem to have been added to, in discourse, by a referring to male privilege and being white, male and middle class and middle aged, as though this were in itself, offensive, or ever relevant, I get it, but those are not unifying expressions and Shirley Williams, and come to think of it, Layla Moran, Christine Jardine, Heidi Allen, Justine Greening, many others, seem to be able to deal with these things in more inclusive ways.

    I do like and respect Jo Swinson.

    She is a very likeable and intelligent person.

    I like and respect people, and her included, because of their quality and character not identity and gender.

    I would be very glad, and am that if and when people feel that way about me , they do not see merely, white, male, middle class and , yes, middle aged!

    This development is a recent and new one for uk liberal politics and reminds me of liberal, left, in the US. I know Jo Swinson for many years as someone of broader interest and do yet. When she is on Question Time I see that. When she picks topics I see her interest put to only the topic of gender recently. Maybe as with the obsession with Brexit, I yearn for more on inequality , healthcare, isolation, which interest and indeed effect me , and yes, with those attributes of identity I mention, not despite or because of it. These issues effect many throughout our society and some issues are crucial and I am keen to hear more of those.

  • Jayne mansfield 6th Mar '18 - 8:33pm

    Oh well, it has given many a good laugh.

    ‘Liverpool Councillor in ‘sexism’ row after backing permanent tribute to Margaret Thatcher’ The Liverpool Echo.

    ‘I think that Mrs Thatcher was loathsome. But she was the only man in the cabinet’.


  • I note Vince has joined Corbyn in calling for a statue to feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft…

    There is one demand we could all unite behind!

  • Richard Underhill 7th Mar '18 - 4:11pm

    Those who claimed to know said that he deserved not a statue but a sainthood.
    Tory financial cuts had abolished the deterrence provided by one, rather elderly ship. The memoirs of former PM Jim Callaghan claim that he understood this, being a navy man, and a former Chancellor, so he had found the necessary money.
    The tory defence secretary repeatedly said that the navy leadership arrived at Downing Street wearing uniforms, which impressed the PM, but there was no air cover. The number of brits killed was about the same as the number of Falkland islanders freed.
    Her evasions and distortions undermined the confidence which the electorate should have in their government. Although the Belgrano was steaming away from the Falklands when it was torpedoed by HMS Conqueror the commanders knew that their orders came “from the very top”. They flew the Jolly Roger on return to the UK, a tradition pre-dating WW1 when military submarines were thought to be ungentlemanly.
    The first lord of the treasury authorised the money for an airport to prevent recurrence, much more than deterrence would have cost.
    So if a statue is to be built it should be accessible to tourists and pigeons.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Mar '18 - 4:15pm

    “Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.”

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