The Race for Chancellor

As the elections for Chancellor get underway, we talk to the candidates about what they hope to achieve and how they rate their chances.

abdul arain brian blessed chancellor elections lord sainsbury michael mansfield race Sainsbury's

For the first time in 164 years there is a contested election for the Chancellorship of Cambridge, and this weekend is the final showdown.

After summer’s build up, this weekend will see the four candidates square off against each other as grads with MAs and academics vote for the next Chancellor. We spoke to the candidates ahead of this weekend’s vote, minus Brian Blessed who was too busy booming out Latin verse.


The owner of a shop on Mill Road, Abdul Arain was the first to stand against front runner Lord Sainsbury. His candidacy is a protest against possible plans to open another Sainsbury’s on Mill Road.

On his chances: “I was asked by the academics to stand and I enjoy that support and I see it all round me, so it’s town and gown which comforts me.”

On the job: “In reality the office of government is run by the vice-chancellor – you can’t have two heads. But what you can have is people who can work together and bring the ethics and the things they feel passionate about to the table to allow a discourse to take place which can allow other points of view to come into the fold.”

On the competition: “Whoever is elected to the post, they certainly have Cambridge’s interests at heart. I haven’t met any of them, but what I would say is, particularly of Lord Sainsbury, they project the same image [of traditional power and privilege]. And if we are looking towards a change, this is where I come in.”

His plans for the vote: “Work as usual. And if anyone wanted to talk to me I’m available as I always am.”

Interview by Kieran Corcoran


A QC who has defended, among others, Mohammed Al Fayed, Michael Barrymore and Arthur Scargill, Mansfield is a dark horse in this competition, but is perhaps the only serious alternative to Sainsbury.

On the job: “It is a ceremonial role, I don’t deny that, and it has its function. But it shouldn’t be exclusive to that. Part of my role is that it would be a paradigm shift to something else. You can’t have someone who is just a figurehead in the 21st century.”

What he wants to achieve: “An agenda change. Education – free education, although everyone always misses that – is a human right, It’s not a dogma, it’s there, laid out in international human rights law. David Willetts was recently asked, ‘what are universities for?’ Are they an adjunct to business? Are they going to suit Unilever? Or Sainsbury’s? I believe that the sole object of university is not for lining up a career. Education is about the whole person.

On this chances: “I’ve faced ingrained views in the law for 42 years, and I’ve made changes there. It may not happen within a space of time you can envisage. But you can sow the seeds. It can take a decade or two to change, but you had to be patient. But people do change, and I am a firm believer in that.”

On the competition: “I have views but I’m not going to express them, because I’ve been involved in these situations before – I’ve never ever spent my life slagging off other people or being supportive of other people. They’ve all got their pros and cons and I’ve got my pros and cons.”

Interview by Holly Stevenson


The University’s preferred candidate, Lord Sainsbury was Chairman of Sainsbury’s from 1992 to 1997 and Minister of Science and Innovation between 1998 and 2006. He read History and Psychology at King’s as an undergraduate.

On the job: “The key point about this is that the chancellor’s role is to be a champion of the university both at home and abroad. It’s not linked to the governance of the university, that’s Regents’ House, the colleges’ and the Vice Chancellor’s role. You don’t need anyone else involved in that.”

On the competition: “They have put themselves forward; the point of this election is to give people the opportunity to choose who they think is the best person for the role. Actually, one of the nice things about this election has been the absolutely minimal amount of attacking the candidates from everyone involved. It could easily have been a vicious election, but it has been run in a very amicable way.”

What he’d do: “I think I would emphasise championing the university, something that the Chancellor is capable of and has not been done in the past. However, it’s important not to get involved in the politics. As a member of the House of Lords, it’s possible for one to be involved in debates there. Once could use this platform to make the case of the importance of Cambridge University both economically speaking and as an incredible base of education.”

Why Cambridge? “Firstly, I was an undergraduate here, and secondly, this is the best university in the country.”

Interview by Will Stinson


Blessed is a man who needs no introduction, but we’ll give him one anyway. A true thesp, Blessed is perhaps best know for his role in the TV adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius. He refused us an interview, but he still gets our vote, as after all, Cambridge already has two Sainsbury’s. And he closed his Union speech by saying: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Enough said.


Watch videos of the candidate hustings at the Union on CUS Connect.