University of Oxford Chancellor election, 1987

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University of Oxford Chancellor election, 1987
United Kingdom
← 1960 14 March 1987 2003 →
  Roy Jenkins 1977b.jpg Portrait gray.png Heathdod.JPG
Candidate Roy Jenkins Lord Blake Edward Heath
Party Social Democratic Conservative Conservative
Popular vote 3,249 2,674 2,348
Percentage 39.1 32.2 29.3

  Portrait gray.png
Candidate Mark Payne
Party Independent
Popular vote 38
Percentage 0.5

Chancellor before election

Harold Macmillan

Elected Chancellor

Roy Jenkins

The 1987 University of Oxford election for the position of Chancellor was called upon the death of the incumbent Chancellor, Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton on 29 December 1986.


The electorate consisted of all members of the University holding the rank of MA. Votes had to be cast in person at Oxford in academic dress. The election was by first past the post. To stand a candidate had to be nominated by two MAs.


The election generated much interest and numerous names were raised in the press as potential candidates, including:[1]

  • Former Labour Prime Ministers Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (1916–1995) (served 1964–1970 and 1974–1976) and James Callaghan MP (1912–2005) (served 1976–1979)
  • Former Conservative Prime Ministers Lord Home of the Hirsel (1902–1995) (served 1963–1964) and Edward Heath MP (1916–2005) (served 1970–1974), as well as serving Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925–2013) (served 1979–1990)
  • Two prominent Conservative politicians: former Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington (born 1919) (held that position 1979–1982; a Cabinet minister in every Conservative government from 1956 until 1982), and former Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone (was Lord Chancellor 1970–1974 and 1979–1987; a former Conservative Cabinet minister since 1957)
  • Social Democratic politicians Roy Jenkins (1920–2003) (Home Secretary 1965–1967 and 1974–1976; Chancellor of the Exchequer 1967–1970, Leader of the Social Democrats 1981–1983) and Shirley Williams (born 1930) (Secretary of State for Prices & Consumer Protection 1974–1976; Paymaster-General & Secretary of State for education & Science 1976–1979) who had broken away from Labour in 1981 due to its leftward drift.

A notable feature was the decision of the university dons and authorities to not agree a preferred candidate in advance, thus increasing the possibility of a long list of candidates being nominated.[2]

Eventually four candidates were nominated:

Course of the election[edit]

The election attracted huge levels of publicity, at times likened to a parliamentary by-election.[3] Much of the attention focused upon the Jenkins and Heath campaigns, whilst Blake was seen as a non-political candidate. Payne was regarded as an outsider.

Much attention was focused on the issue of government funding for universities, with Oxford facing the effects of cuts in its funding, leading to several chairs being left unfilled.[4]

The requirement for those voting to do so in academic dress resulted in the local tailor selling out. One tactic of the supporters of Jenkins was to lend gowns to voters lacking them.[4]


Polling ran until 14 March 1987. The results were as follows:[5]

Candidate Votes %
Roy Jenkins 3,249 39.1
Lord Blake 2,674 32.2
Edward Heath 2,348 29.3
Mark Payne 38 0.5
Turnout 8,309
Roy Jenkins elected

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Finding a dark blue horse". The Guardian. 10 January 1987. 
  2. ^ "The buzz begins on an Oxford successor". The Guardian. 21 January 1987. 
  3. ^ "Oxford's scholarly voters catch by-election fever". The Times. 8 March 1987. 
  4. ^ a b "What a swell party this is ..And, by the way, we also elected a chancellor – The triumph of Roy Jenkins". The Times. 15 March 1987. 
  5. ^ "Jenkins wins the Oxford vote". The Times. 15 March 1987.