Rory Stewart will not stand as Oxford chancellor candidate

Rory Stewart was a likely contender for the chancellor role, alongside Theresa May and Boris Johnson
Rory Stewart was a likely contender for the chancellor role, alongside Theresa May and Boris Johnson - ANDREW CROWLEY

Rory Stewart has ruled himself out of the race to become the next chancellor of the University of Oxford.

The former Conservative MP wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Thursday that there were “much better candidates than me”.

He was understood to be the frontrunner in the process to replace Lord Patten of Barnes, who has announced plans to retire from the role he has held for more than two decades at the end of this academic year.

The chancellor is the largely ceremonial head of the university, who is “usually an eminent public figure elected for life” and “presides over all major ceremonies”, according to Oxford University’s website.

Mr Stewart said: “More election news when everyone’s had enough…There’s been talk of me as a candidate for Oxford chancellor. There are much better candidates than me for Oxford. I won’t be standing. Good luck to those who are. It’s an amazing role!”

The former Tory leadership hopeful, who previously had the best odds of replacing Lord Patten on William Hill, the betting site, recently joined Yale University in Connecticut as a professor in the practice of grand strategy.

The host of The Rest is Politics podcast, alongside the former Labour Party spin doctor Alastair Campbell, studied history and philosophy, politics and economics at the Balliol College, Oxford.

Oxford insiders told The Telegraph his withdrawal leaves Theresa May, the former prime minister, and Lady Elish Angiolini, the principal of St Hugh’s College, as the most likely challengers to succeed Lord Patten.

The Telegraph revealed in March that politicians will be barred from standing to be Oxford’s next chancellor, following a ruling by the institution’s governing body.

In a leaked email sent to Oxford academics, Gillian Aitken, the university’s registrar, said that a panel of dons and administrators would block “members of legislatures or those active in politics” from the race to succeed Lord Patten of Barnes.

The university abandoned plans earlier this year for an internal committee to pre-screen candidates, following backlash from alumni.

Tweaked rules proposed that the chancellor’s election committee made up of senior university staff, would “oversee the election process” based on equality and diversity principles.

However, this was amended to the committee being able to “organise the election process” and “play no substantive role in the selection of a chancellor”.

Likely contenders

Mrs May has announced plans to step down after the general election after 27 years in parliament as the Conservative MP for Maidenhead. It means she would be allowed to run for Oxford chancellor under the current rules.

Lady Angiolini led the inquiry into the abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, which reported its findings in February.

She currently serves as one of sixteen Oxford’s pro-vice-chancellors, who aid Irene Tracey, the vice-chancellor, with “degree ceremonies and chairing electoral boards”, according to the university’s website.

Lady Angiolini was also previously the chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland and is an honorary professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Success for either her or Mrs May would result in Oxford’s first female chancellor in the role’s 800-year history.

Oxford is understood to still be considering nominations and the official process has not yet kicked off. Potential candidates are thought to be taking soundings on their possible chances of success.

First online election

The election will be held online for the first time and will take place in the Michaelmas term at the start of the next academic year.

During the last election in 2003, voting was held entirely in person at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre, and more than 8,000 academics and former students took part. It is expected that far more people could vote this year as Oxford prepares to move to an electronic voting system.

Boris Johnson and Imran Khan, the former Pakistani prime minister, have also been touted as possible contenders. Mr Khan is currently in jail after being sentenced over corruption allegations in Pakistan last August, in what he claims are politically motivated charges.

Mr Johnson, the former prime minister, was thought to have been drafted in by the Tories earlier this week to play a more active role in the election campaign, but it has since emerged he is on holiday in Italy with his family.

Lord Patten, who was the last governor of Hong Kong and a former chairman of the Conservative Party, said earlier this year: “It is in my own interest and that of the University for me to step down […] giving the University the opportunity to plan a sensible succession which matches the demands of the 2020s”.

Previous Oxford chancellors include Harold Macmillan, the former Conservative prime minister, and Oliver Cromwell, the 17th-century statesman.

Oxford was approached for comment.