Iron Lady returns, this time in bronze
Baroness Thatcher last night joined the British prime ministers whose contribution to history merits a full-length statue in the Members' Lobby at the Palace of Westminster.
“I might have preferred iron,” she said, at the unveiling of her monument, that stands pointing, as if at the dispatch box. “But bronze will do. It won't rust.”
Michael Martin, the Speaker, pulled a cord, the cloth caught for a moment on the statue's pointing finger - then there she was, the Iron Lady in bronze, imposing, formidable.
Fran?ois Mitterrand had once mused: “She has the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula.”
In the statue, her bronze hair is swept back, and the clothes are modelled on the dress she wore on the day she announced her resignation. The handbag, it is assumed, has been left on the front bench.
Baroness Thatcher had asked the sculptor, Antony Dufort, to capture her intensity, the intensity that she sustained during an exhausting Commons career.
Last night the Speaker recalled: “I came into the House the same day you became Prime Minister. I watched from afar. You were formidable in responding to attack. Never personal. Always respecting the traditions of the House, protecting those traditions.”
It was the late Tony Banks, a politician about as different from Baroness Thatcher as is possible, who had initiated the commission of the sculpture. As chairman of the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art, Mr Banks, who had become Baron Stratford, had no doubt that “history demands it”.
Lloyd George, Churchill and Attlee also have full-length statues in the lobby. The tradition had been for such an honour to be bestowed posthumously, after ten years.
“It is right and fitting that Lady Thatcher's period in office as the first woman Prime Minister should be celebrated while she was still alive,“ the Speaker told the Commons yesterday.
A marble statue of Lady Thatcher had been commissioned for that very purpose, but met a violent end in the Guildhall Art Gallery in 2002 when a man armed with a cricket bat decapitated it.
Baroness Thatcher said: “This time, I hope, the head will stay on.”
She was enjoying herself Ñ she said as much. It is quite something to see one's legacy preserved in bronze, and looking rather trim too. “You've made me look quite slim,” she reportedly told the sculptor. “I'll have to avoid putting on weight.”
Wearing a gold and champagne suit, she posed for photographs with Sir John Major and David Cameron.
Mr Martin made reference to Baroness Thatcher's late husband. “All I can say, Margaret,” the Speaker said as he kissed her on the cheek, “is that Denis would be very proud of you tonight.”