Statue of pioneering MP Barbara Castle joins recent memorials to prominent British women | Politics

Barbara Castle, the pioneering British female politician and prominent national figure from the 1950s to the 1970s, has been commemorated with a new statue in Blackburn, where she served as a Labor MP for 34 years.

The prominent figure, sculpted by Sam Holland, holds a bronze copy of the Equal Pay Act 1970. It is the latest in a series of commissioned works that are slowly correcting the heavy dominance of male statues. Other recent initiatives to mark the lives of influential British women include London statues of Diana, Princess of Wales and of campaign writer Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as the statue of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst in 2018 in Manchester.

The Barbara Castle statue of Sam Holland in Blackburn.
The Barbara Castle statue of Sam Holland in Blackburn. Photo: Gary Calton / The Observer

Ex-Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May donated to the statue, which is installed directly in the ground. “She would not be on a pedestal,” Holland explained. “She was talking to people on earth, so it was important that she was among the people.”

Castle, who died in 2002 at the age of 91, left his mark on British life, not only in legislation to promote equal pay for women, but also by enforcing seat belts in new cars and introducing a respirator.

She was played by Miranda Richardson in the 2010 film Made in Dagenham, and is set to appear on screen again in the first episode of a planned series about the female MPs who appeared before Margaret Thatcher, written by journalist and television station Helen Lewis.

“Barbara Castle is the best Prime Minister Britain has ever had,” Lewis said Observer this weekend. “Her performance was significant – respiratory protection, which helped create the Ministry of Overseas Development, equal pay – but what stands out most is that she was a fighter.

“The law on equal pay, for example, was born out of the ashes of a humiliating defeat – her attempt to reform the unions. In the 1970s, when Jim Callaghan fired her from the Cabinet for being too old – she was only two years older than him – she left British politics and served as MEP for a decade. ”

The official unveiling at Blackburn’s Jubilee Square was attended by Jack Straw, who succeeded Castle as the city’s MP, and by the current MP, Kate Hollern. The Labor Party’s deputy director, Angela Rayner, also joined the ceremony along with Blackburn councilors, including Maureen Bateson, who knew Castle and led the drive to put up a statue.

From left to right, female MPs Edith Summerskill, Patricia Ford, Barbara Castle and Irene Ward make their way to the House of Commons on a petition demanding equal pay for women on 8 March 1954
From left, MPs Edith Summerskill, Patricia Ford, Barbara Castle and Irene Ward make their way to the House of Commons on a petition demanding equal pay for women on 8 March 1954. Photo: Terry Fincher / Getty Images

Baroness Castle, the daughter of a West Yorkshire tax inspector, was the youngest woman elected in Labor’s 1945 landslide victory.

The Netherlands was given the task of creating the sculpture in 2019, but the work was delayed by the pandemic. “Barbara should have been celebrated 50 years ago. She was a great advocate for those who are not heard.

“At the time, she was a lonely woman among those in power,” Holland has said, admitting that the hardest part of the process was getting the right bag. “It’s about capturing her energy and determination.”

The statue is the third attempt at a tribute. In the 1980s, the local Labor party raised £ 19,000 for a town hall named after her, and there was a failed bid for a statue in 2004.

Such persistence is appropriate for Castle, who is often quoted as saying, “In politics, the gut is everything.”

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