Despite her unexpected resignation from her job as president of the Madrid region in September 2012, Esperanza Aguirre continues to be considered a heavy-weight in the ruling Partido Popular. She regards herself as a political liberal and is outspoken about her opinions, even when they upset other party members including the party leader Mariano Rajoy.
A countess by birth and grandee of Spain by marriage, Esperanza graduated in law and worked as an adviser in the ministry of Tourism until 1979. She became active in Madrid politics in the 1980s first in the small “Unión Liberal” party, joining the Alianza Popular (predecessor to the Partido Popular) in 1987. Her first political role was in opposition on the Madrid city council, moving on to be deputy mayor in 1995. In that year she was also appointed to the board of the Caja Madrid bank as Partido Popular representative. When the Partido Popular won the national elections in 1996, Esperanza was elected senator and also appointed minister of Education and Culture. In 1999 she became the first woman president of the Senate, a post which she later renounced in order to stand for election as President of Madrid region. After some electoral difficulties she gained this position by absolute majority in 2003, becoming the second woman to become regional president in Spain up till that time. In 2004 the British Queen Elizabeth awarded her the title of Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Her years as President of the Madrid region were often controversial. She presided over improvements in infrastructure including the construction of new schools and hospitals although her use of private companies to manage public services has been highly criticized. Well known for her use of the media for personal promotion Aguirre was especially noted for her practice of inaugurating buildings that were not yet finished, importing equipment and personnel who had to pretend to be working for the benefit of the cameras. She had a stormy relationship with the Madrid regional television company Telemadrid who frequently accused her of censorship and manipulation. One of the company’s leading journalists was forced to resign after questioning her too harshly in a television interview. She was also notorious for her rebellion against central party policy, one example being her intention to overturn the anti-smoking laws in Madrid in defiance of national government.
Esperanza Aguirre has survived a bomb attack in Bombay, a helicopter crash and breast cancer which was the official explanation of her sudden resignation in 2012. However, her motives have been closely scrutinized by those who believe she still has political ambitions.