Patten may end up in RAB's Trinity seat

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The Independent Online
Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong, may be offered the Mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge, the job once occupied by his political mentor, R A"Rab" Butler.

The offer of the post to Mr Patten would present a dilemma for the former Cabinet minister, who steps down as Governor on June 30, when Hong Kong is handed back to the Chinese. Because of the timing of the hand-over , Mr Patten, who lost his seat in 1992, will be unable to contest the general election here, complicating any plans he may have had to return to domestic politics.

The job at Trinity, which is one of the most prestigious in academia, falls vacant in the autumn on the retirement of the mathematician, Sir Michael Atiyah. It would have a special appeal for Mr Patten because of his admiration for Mr Butler, who twice missed out on the leadership of the Conservative Party. Mr Patten has a picture of "Rab" on his office wall in Hong Kong, as he did when he was chairman of the Conservative Party.

In a rare circumstance for Oxbridge colleges, the appointment takes place without an election among fellows, being, instead, a crown appointment. Patten supporters say this arrange- ment, which gives the final say to the Prime Minister, provides parallels with the appointment of Lord Butler in the 1960s.

Then, the new Labour prime minister Harold Wilson was pleased to approve Lord Butler's appointment to get him off the political scene. If Labour wins the election, Mr Blair might feel the same way.

There is no absolute rule to bar Mr Patten from a political role should he be offered and then take up the Mastership. However, allies believe that in practice it would be difficult to combine the two, and think that Mr Patten's relative youth means he would be unlikely to take up the position even if it were offered. Mr Patten will be 53 when the post falls vacant.

If Mr Patten decides not to try to become an MP again, he might be offered a seat in the Lords, or better still, a job as a commissioner for Europe. However, Britain's representation on the Commission could still be cut to one, making Mr Patten's prospects for this job rather poor.