The new mayor of Sant Joan, a small town of 2,000 people that sits in the centre of Mallorca, likes to joke that his main priority when he begins work on Monday will be ensuring a kettle is installed in his office.
Last month’s regional and local elections – which left the ruling Socialists with a bloody nose, triggered a snap general election and caused the conservative People’s party (PP) to forge a coalition with the far-right Vox party to rule the Valencia region – have also had unexpected consequences in Sant Joan.
The town’s new mayor is a 52-year-old British teacher from West Sussex, who attributes his victory to a strong manifesto, an energetic and positive campaign and his long-running and enthusiastic participation in Sant Joan’s annual summer talent contests.
Richard Thompson, who moved to the hometown of his Mallorcan wife nine years ago, stood as the mayoral candidate of the local branch of the eco-socialist Més per Mallorca (More for Mallorca) party on 28 May. After winning five of the 11 seats on the local council, his party struck a coalition deal with the Socialists under which Thompson will serve as Sant Joan’s mayor for three years before handing over to the Socialist councillor for the final year of the term.
Despite the fact he had served as a local councillor for the past four years, Thompson acknowledged not everyone in Sant Joan was immediately smitten with the idea of his candidacy.
“I think everyone was like, ‘Really?’ And then some people were like, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous,’” he said.
“But I think people came round very quickly. There are very few Brits in the village and I’m 6ft 1, so I stand out when I walk around the village. And over the last nine years, I’ve probably taught 300-400 different people in the village – and if I haven’t taught a particular individual, then I’ve taught a son or a daughter or a grandchild. Everyone knows each other in a village of 2,000 people.”
Although he is not a Spanish citizen, Thompson’s resident status has allowed him to become the first British mayor in the Balearic islands. He now follows in the footsteps of Mark Lewis, a Briton who became mayor of a town on the Costa Blanca in 2008 after some of his fellow councillors were arrested as part of a corruption investigation, and Carmen McPhee, a British-born sheep farmer who assumed the mayoralty of a farming village in León 10 years ago.
While his party’s 12-point manifesto contained plans for rejigging the town’s website, improving the maintenance of the local sports facilities, creating a day centre for Sant Joan’s older residents and ensuring that children can walk to school safely, Thompson says one of his main aims over the coming years is to boost local pride.
When his term ends, he said: “I’d like people to feel that things work efficiently and that we’ve fulfilled our programme and done what we said we’d do. Our slogan was orgull sant joaner [Sant Joan pride] – we want people to take pride in their village and in being from Sant Joan.”
Before all that can happen, however, he still has a week of classes to teach at his language school. “I’ve told everyone that I’ll finish the term and be mayor in the morning,” he said.
“I’ve decided to dedicate 100% of my time to the mayoralty. I don’t really give classes in the summer and from September I will hopefully be able to hand over my classes to a new teacher. I don’t want to leave my students and their parents in the lurch.”
Asked what lessons a British politician could give Spaniards in the turbulent aftermath of Brexit, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Thompson was diplomatic.
“Um, having travelled all over the world and lived in lots of different places, although I am British, I don’t necessarily identify as British – especially after Brexit and after living in Spain for so long. I consider myself a sant joaner and I wouldn’t dream of trying to give lessons to the people of the village,” he said.
“All I can say is because I’ve had international experience, travelled widely and lived in different countries, perhaps that’s something I can offer.”