Cambridge University has elected Lord Sainsbury as its new chancellor in the first real contest for the post since 1847. The millionaire philanthropist succeeds the Duke of Edinburgh who held the title for 34 years.
While the role is largely ceremonial, the recent choice was more contentious than usual after a number of candidates, including a popular local shopkeeper, were put forward.
Sainsbury is a Cambridge graduate and has donated millions of pounds towards science facilities at the university. He worked for the family business Sainsbury’s, rising to chairman, and previously served as government minister for science – a position he held under Tony Blair’s premiership.
The other contenders for the prestigious title were the lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, actor Brian Blessed and Abdul Arain, owner of Mill Road’s Al-Amin store. While Sainsbury gained over half of the vote, many students backed Arain’s campaign in a demonstration of solidarity with small shop owners.
Campaigning spread to the social networking site Twitter, with a plea that academics cast a vote for ‘Anybody but Sainsbury’. The Single Transferable Vote system used by the university means that a candidate requires a majority of first-preference votes to be sure of victory.
Speaking about his victory, Sainsbury commented, ‘I am pleased and honoured to have been elected as the next chancellor of Cambridge University and would like to thank all those whohave supported me, and the other candidates who have made this such a friendly election.’
Some students were unsurprisingly disappointed in that respect. Matthew Johnson, chairman of the Cambridge University Conservative Association said Sainsbury’s political background was “a drawback for my association”, though he added that he felt the new chancellor was a “charitable, intelligent and successful gentleman”.
There was some disappointment with the level of turnout for the election. While the University had predicted that 8000 votes would be cast, less than 6000 made it into the ballot box.