Lord Sainsbury was elected in 2011Louis Ashworth for Varsity

The Chancellor of Cambridge, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, has today announced his intention to resign. The UK’s biggest political donor will remain in post this term, but will step down at the end of the academic year.

The position of Cambridge Chancellor is held for life and is a mostly ceremonial role.

Sainsbury was elected in 2011 as the successor to Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, after a four-way race. Lord Sainsbury’s candidature was put forward by the University’s nomination board, but he was opposed by local shopkeeper Abdul Arain, actor Brian Blessed, and socialist barrister Michael Mansfield.

Sainsbury, the University’s 108th Chancellor, is an alum of King’s College Cambridge, where he studied History and Psychology after attending Eton College.

The politician and philanthropist has donated £127 million to Cambridge University through the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the trust he set up in 1967. Sainsbury’s notable donations include £82 million for a plant science laboratory and £45 million for the University’s botanic gardens.

The Chancellor served as chairman of supermarket chain Sainsbury’s from 1992 to 1997, when he was granted a life peerage as a member of the Labour Party.

Between 1996 and 2006, when Sainsbury stood down as a Labour science minister, the businessman donated £16 million to the party. The billionaire was questioned by police when still a minister in 2006 during the cash for honours scandal, having admitted to failing to disclose a £2 million loan to the party.


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The Chancellor donated more than £8 million to the Remain campaign during the EU referendum, funding nine pro-Europe groups. Sainsbury announced an end to his political donations in 2017.

The announcement comes after consultation on the voting procedures of Chancellor elections. Proposals to change the voting system from single transferrable vote to first past the post were withdrawn last month due to a lack of support.

The consultation resulted in the removal of the nomination board, which put forward Lord Sainsbury as its candidate during the 2011 election. As a result, any candidate for Chancellor with more than 50 nominations will enter the ballot.

A timetable for the election of a new Chancellor will be announced once Sainsbury’s resignation has been formally submitted, which is expected to be next term.