Margaret Thatcher Plaza: Madrid's new left-wing Mayor looks to rename square that is city's tribute to the Iron Lady

Manuela Carmena reportedly told supporters she did not 'want a space for public use to be named after the woman who enslaved the workers'

Alistair Dawber
Thursday 02 July 2015 22:21
Plaza Margaret Thatcher in Madrid, inaugurated last year
Plaza Margaret Thatcher in Madrid, inaugurated last year

She was a doyenne of right-wing politicians around the world, but Madrid’s tribute to Margaret Thatcher – a square named after the Iron Lady – may be short-lived as the city’s new left-wing Mayor considers renaming Plaza Margaret Thatcher less than a year after its inauguration.

It was all pomp and ceremony in September last year when Mark Thatcher, son of the former Prime Minister, was invited to break ground on the site in the centre of the Spanish capital.

Just 10 months on, and after Madrid elected a left-wing former judge as its new Mayor in May, the decision could be reversed. According to the conservative Breitbart news website, Manuela Carmena has indicated that she favours replacing Thatcher’s name with that of Pedro Zerolo, a former Spanish Socialist party politician and gay rights activist who died of cancer last month. Ms Carmena is reported to have told supporters of her Ahora Madrid party, a coalition of left-wing groups, that they “do not want a space for public use in town to be named after the Iron Lady who enslaved the workers”.

Zerolo’s life and career could hardly be more at odds with that of Thatcher, Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990. Born in Venezuela to parents exiled by Franco’s dictatorship, he became a passionate advocate for gay rights, and was among the first Spaniards to marry his partner in 2005 when gay marriage was made legal.

Thatcher, despite her libertarian outlook, was an opponent of greater equality for the LGBT community. Her government passed the so-called Section 28 legislation, which outlawed the promotion of homosexuality in British schools.

Madrid’s new Mayor Manuela Carmena favours replacing Margaret Thatcher’s name with that of Pedro Zerolo, a former Spanish Socialist party politician and gay rights activist

Thatcher died in 2013, and it was not long afterwards that Madrid’s then conservative Mayor, Ana Botella, advocated dedicating the unnamed square to her. Ms Botella described the former Conservative leader as a “pioneer” and “inspiration”.

Ms Botella was roundly kicked out of office in May. Ms Carmena has promised a wholesale change to politics in the Spanish capital. Gone is the town hall-owned box at the Madrid opera house. And showing she was one of the people, Ms Carmena caught the metro to work on her first day in office. She has promised “a real change in the way of doing politics,” ironically setting out to achieve something that became characteristic of Thatcher’s time in office.

Rather than following Thatcher’s lead, however, Ms Carmena has promised to stem the tide of home evictions caused by mortgage payment defaults and help to ease Madrid’s burgeoning public debt.

While left-wingers would no doubt cheer the removal of a Thatcher tribute in Madrid, even if it is close to the swanky, upmarket Salamanca district, those hoping for real change in the capital may wonder whether it should really be a priority.

Despite Spain emerging from one of its deepest-ever recessions, the home evictions that Ms Carmena campaigned against are still rising and the queues for food handouts in public squares are still long. But it is still early days for Ms Carmena, and removing the Iron Lady would be a signal of intent.

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