By Sally Pook
Published March 18th 2003 in London Telegraph
Chris Patten, the European Union commissioner and former Conservative Party chairman, was elected Chancellor of Oxford University yesterday.
He said it was an honour more profound than he could describe. A graduate of Balliol College, where he studied history, Mr Patten said: "I am as pleased as Punch. I realised when I was standing in the sunshine in Oxford during the voting at the weekend how deeply I wanted to win.
"I am the most pessimistic campaigner there has ever been. I always think I am going to come second or third but a lot of people told me I had a good chance. I thought, after my defeat in Bath, that would be my last election but I am glad the democratic process has ended rather more happily this time."
Mr Patten received 4,203 votes in the final round, 1,720 more than the second placed candidate, Lord Bingham, the senior Law Lord and former Master of the Rolls.
Lord Neill, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, was in third place with 1,470 votes.
Under the single transferable vote system, used for the first time, the
broadcaster Sandi Toksvig was eliminated from the final round. She was the only candidate opposed to top-up fees.
The post of Chancellor of Oxford brings no financial rewards, is ill-defined, but is prestigious. Friends of Mr Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, believe he has the contacts, international experience and knowledge of the political world to make an outstanding chancellor.
His love of fine food is also said to make him the perfect choice for a post that involves a fairly punishing dining schedule. The last incumbent, Lord Jenkins, made it a point of principle to work his way through the dining rooms of all 39 colleges.
Mr Patten said yesterday that among his first tasks would be meeting the
vice-chancellor, Sir Colin Lucas, as well as William Straw, president of the Students' Union and son of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary.
"I see my job as working with others so that we can make sure Oxford retains its global eminence and manages to cope with the competition from Ivy League universities," he said.
He added that top-up fees should not be allowed to dominate the debate on higher education funding but he did not believe Oxford could afford "to say no".
"It is an honour, more profound than I can easily describe, to be asked to
help the university deal with the challenges of the next few years, to
advocate and stand up for its interests at home and abroad," he said. "To
follow Roy Jenkins will be an extremely tall order. But I promise to do my best."
Mr Patten, 58, who famously organised John Major's election victory in 1992 only to lose his own seat in Bath, was widely seen as the favourite for the post.
While at Oxford, Mr Patten acted, played
rugby and cricket but did not, as he admits, work sufficiently hard to
gain a First. He did make lots of
"wonderful" friends, including future judges, writers and newspaper editors.
Mr Patten met his wife, Lavender, a graduate of St Hilda's, while at Oxford. They have three photogenic daughters, who proved reliable campaigners for the chancellorship.
Professor Tim Softley, senior
proctor of the University, who announced the results, said: "There are
some challenging questions that need to be
addressed and I think it is very important that we have a chancellor who has been close to the reins of power."
Balliol, which has produced six previous chancellors, celebrated Mr Patten's victory by inviting him to the college for champagne.