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Retirement from the public eye

Aguirre steps down as regional premier of Madrid, leaving a hardline sector of the PP leaderless

For the first time in her life, Esperanza Aguirre — a longtime prominent figure in the center-right Popular Party (PP) — has put personal considerations before the professional and political ones that have defined her whole career. This in itself throws light on her resignation as regional premier of Madrid, which was announced on Monday.

In spite of all the posts she has held — former minister of education and culture, the first female Senate speaker, the first female regional premier — and the electoral victories she has secured, she has never ceased to be a latent rival within her own party to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and the visible head of a discrepant sector. This is why the health-related reasons and other “personal factors” mentioned in her farewell speech may indeed have determined the shift in the priorities she so tenaciously maintained for nearly 30 years, by means of which she tried to keep the fact that she is a woman from being a handicap to her career. The mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, rightly noted that the retirement of Aguirre marks “the end of an era.”

This decision will have consequences for the future of the Spanish right, where there is a notable lack of high-caliber disciples to continue Aguirre’s neoliberal, right-wing ideas and her manner of exercising them, with a certain personal simplicity and a radical style that aroused both fervent loyalty and fierce criticism. The banners raised by Aguirre were attentively observed far beyond the Madrid region, but her radical-right cause never attracted sufficient support to become a predominant option within the Spanish right. Politics abhors a vacuum, and there will surely be someone to pick up these banners that, for the moment, have no standard-bearer. But it is so unusual to see a politician voluntarily abandon the battlefield that, for this reason alone, Esperanza Aguirre deserves respect. Her case gives the lie to those who pour blanket criticism on the political class.

Her ideas may be questionable, and there is also the dark episode that saw her take the premiership of Madrid in 2003, when Socialist deputies Eduardo Tamayo and María Teresa Sáez betrayed Socialist Rafael Simancas, who could no longer head up a coalition government with the United Left (IU). Yet indiscriminate criticism of politics has been going on for too long — as if it were a compendium of all our ills without anything positive — and it should be pointed out now and then that politicians deserve more respect.

The vagueness of the personal reasons adduced by Aguirre counsels prudence concerning the underlying reasons for her resignation, among which we cannot rule out sheer weariness of public life. After being diagnosed with cancer — of which, on Monday, she said she was “apparently cured” — she considered not running in the 2011 regional elections. But she did. And after the PP’s victory in the general elections of November 2011, her weariness was mentioned once more. All of these are signs that the regional government was a burden to her. Particularly because Rajoy, once in the prime ministerial mansion, had given sufficient signs that he had no place for her in the top ranks of the Popular Party.