Cambridge University Chancellor nomination bandwagon gathers speed

2 June 2011

TCS (somewhat wearily) brings you the latest news on prospective candidates and assorted publicity seekers looking to replace our current incumbent (pictured above).

Veteran Shakespearean actor, Brian Blessed, famed for his booming voice and energetic lifestyle, has formally accepted his nomination for University Chancellor, after a successful Facebook campaign by Cambridge alumni to provide an alternative to the University’s nomination, Lord Sainsbury.

Business magnate Lord Sainsbury might not become Chancellor after all as he faces stiff competition from both actor – and ‘national treasure’ – Brian Blessed and a local businessman in what is becoming a heated contest for the University Chancellor-ship.

After a Facebook campaign, launched by a group of Cambridge alumni last Friday, managed to collect pledges for the 50 nominations that he needed, he has now accepted his nomination and confirmed he will stand for Cambridge University Chancellor.

Nominators must be members of the University’s Senate, which includes anyone with an MA or other higher degree from the University. However, as most graduates qualify for the Cantab MA, almost all Cambridge alumni can nominate someone for the position.

In his statement accepting the nomination, blessed said: “For me, Cambridge has always been the centre of the Earth, there is a brightness and light there that rivals that on Mount Everest.

“The University buildings are architecturally beautiful the whole setting is wonderful and enchants the soul. I am thrilled to be asked.”

If successful, in the position of Chancellor, Blessed would become the constitutional head of the University, with the principal public role being the conferment of honorary degrees at an impressive annual ceremony. The previous Chancellor, HRH Prince Phillip, held the position for 34 years.

Seth Thevoz, one of the alumni who created the Facebook group, a graduate of Clare College, said in a press release, “Who better than a national treasure like Brian Blessed to personify Cambridge?”

The Facebook Group claims the 74 year-old actor “would make an amazing Chancellor” and states “he’s a heavyweight choice. He embodies exactly what Cambridge should be – a much-loved national institution that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

Cambridge alumnus, Rupert Myers, said: “Whatever the outcome of this contest, the enduring legacy should be that these contests are fought.”

This nomination sees Blessed going toe-to-toe with the University’s official candidate, the philanthropist and supermarket mogul Lord David Sainsbury. The choice of Lord Sainsbury, ranked 75th in the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List with a personal wealth of £960mn, has already provoked some local controversy.

Whilst the pro-Brian Facebook group feels that Blessed is an attractive candidate because “he has no political agenda” and because “the Chancellor must continue to be a unifying figure”, the same cannot be said for the former Sainsbury’s chairman, Lord Sainsbury. The King’s College graduate and Labour peer, who was Minister of Science and Innovation from 1998 and 2006, was listed 8th in this year’s Sunday Times Giving List of charity benefactors, and this year he has given £360,000 to one of his favourite beneficiaries: the Labour Party. Whether his strong political affiliations will lead to criticism of his nomination remains to be seen. However, his business interests have sparked criticisms by locals who fear that Sainsbury’s is turning the city into a ‘clone town’.

The third contender is a local businessman, Mr Abdul Arain, owner of a Mill Road grocery store that advertises itself as ‘the melting pot of cuisine and culture’. He proclaims his reason for running is to highlight the local opposition to the Sainsbury’s Local planned to open on Mill Road. After the recent opening of a Sainsbury’s Local on St Andrew’s Street, residents fear that the supermarket chain will secure a monopoly and damage independent local businesses such as Mr Arain’s. Last month Mill Road was nominated in the Google Street Awards ‘Hippest Street’ category for its ‘cosmopolitan vibe’ and wealth of unusual shops.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student this morning, Mr Arain was confident in the progress of his nomination: “We are well on the way to getting the signatures required, and by the deadline we will have well and truly secured the nomination”.

With 5pm on 17th June the deadline for all nominations to be received by the University, it is now a race against time for both Arain and Blessed to be confirmed as candidates.  If they are, we will see elections held for the Chancellor-ship at the end of October this year.

Charlotte Callinan & Zoah Hedges-Stocks

Photo: James Burton