V&A U-turn over decision to not show Margaret Thatcher collection

Margaret Thatcher’s clothes and personal possessions should be saved for the nation, Cabinet ministers have said, as the Victoria & Albert museum changed its position by saying it would welcome a new offer to show the collection.

The V&A had been criticised for refusing to accept Baroness Thatcher’s clothes and some of her personal effects including dresses, handbags and jewellery, which will now be sold at auction.

The Telegraph reports that Senior Conservatives said they were keen to help save the 350 items from Lady Thatcher’s political and personal life, from her prime minister’s red box to her wedding dress.

John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary and a former Parliamentary aide to Lady Thatcher, told The Telegraph: “Lady Thatcher took enormous care over what she wore and was always keen to promote British fashion. Her clothes and accessories were very much part of her image.

“I have no doubt that many people would still love to see them. If the family wish to have them put on display at a national institution, then of course I would be very happy to help achieve this.”

Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, added on Twitter: “Shame the V&A has turned down Thatcher’s personal collection. I for one would have loved to see it!”

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said he thought the collection could be housed in the V&A’s new museum in Stratford, east London, which opens in five years.

Downing Street declined to comment.

The organisers behind the Margaret Thatcher Centre, a proposed institution to conserve the memory of the former Conservative prime minister, launched an “emergency appeal” to capture the personal items.

Donal Blaney, the centre’s chief executive, said: “I believe that it’s absolutely crucial for the public, in Britain and around the world, to understand Lady Thatcher as a three-dimensional human being, rather than a caricature.”

Dame Vivienne Westwood, the designer who admitted she was no “fan” of Lady Thatcher, said: “She was certainly in her lifetime the best-dressed woman. She had terrific taste. It would be lovely if the V&A showed her clothes.”

Lady Thatcher’s wedding outfit is expected to fetch between £10,000 and £15,000

The V&A accepted an earlier donation of 1,000 items of clothing from Jill Ritblat, the wife of property developer Sir John Ritblat, and exhibited some of them.

Three hundred of the items donated by Lady Ritblat were displayed in an exhibition entitled “One Woman’s Wardrobe” in 1998.

Charles Moore, the former Daily Telegraph editor who has published the second volume of his acclaimed autobiography of Margaret Thatcher, said: “It seems the V&A’s original lack of interest came from too low a level and the importance of the idea was not properly discussed. I expect the current management of the museum will take a bigger view.

“They [the clothes] tell the story of a British woman winning in a man’s world, in mainly British clothes. They are of national and global significance and deserve a public home.”

A V&A spokesman said: “We were asked a question yesterday about an informal discussion that happened several years ago and responded accordingly. No formal offer of this collection has yet been made to, or considered by, the museum, and so it has never been discussed at a senior level or with trustees.

“The V&A is a constantly evolving institution, and if we were approached today it is perfectly possible that discussions might develop in a different direction, and we welcome public interest and debate in how we collect and how we research and display our collections to the widest audience.”

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Conor Burns, the Conservative MP who was a constant companion to Lady Thatcher in her later years, added: “It is very regrettable that the V&A has passed up a historic opportunity to acquire the clothes of Britain’s first woman Prime Minister when they have accepted collections from people who cannot claim to be on the same scale of significance.”