Distinguished writer, campaigner, academic... and failed politician

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Prolific writer, distinguished academic, human-rights campaigner and now, failed politician. Michael Ignatieff yesterday shuffled from the Canadian political stage after taking his party to the worst electoral defeat in its history, having heeded his own party's billing. "He is a leader who listens," its upbeat election website declared.

The defeat was at odds with his previously glittering career as an academic, (and collector of 11 honorary degrees) writer (author of 17 books including a Booker-shortlisted novel) and a rights champion. Known in Britain – where he hosted arts programmes – and in the US, he failed to connect and inspire Canadian voters. He claimed that the Conservatives' attack adverts had a major impact on his run for office.

There were other problems. One columnist described the 63-year-old former Harvard professor as difficult to sell because he was "aristocratic and aloof" and that he "sounded superior and condescending".

The vote showed that he was not even popular enough to retain his own seat in a Toronto suburb. It was a far cry from the optimism that greeted his return among the party, which wooed him and encouraged his return to Canada in 2005 from the United States to rally a demoralised party. "Down there, being a liberal is a burden. Up here, it is a badge of honour. No wonder I'm happy to be home," he said at the time.

He came to Canada with a background as a passionate champion of human rights, having witnessed the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda and the chaos of the former Yugoslavia. The journal Prospect rated him as the world's 37th most influential public intellectual; another magazine described him as Canada's "sexiest cerebral man". But at the polls, none of that mattered.