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Lord Patten joined the Conservative Research Department in 1966. He was seconded to the Cabinet Office in 1970 and was personal assistant and political secretary to Lord Carrington and Lord Whitelaw when they were Chairmen of the Conservative Party from 1972-1974. In 1974 he was appointed the youngest ever Director of the Conservative Research Department, a post which he held until 1979.
He was elected as Member of Parliament for Bath in May 1979, a seat he held until April 1992. In 1983 he wrote The Tory Case, a study of Conservatism.
Following the General Election of June 1983, he was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office and in September 1985 Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. In September 1986 he became Minister for Overseas Development at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He was appointed to the Privy Council in 1989 and a Companion of Honour in 1998. In July 1989 Patten became Secretary of State for the Environment. In November 1990 he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chairman of the Conservative Party.
In April 1992 Lord Patten was appointed to the role for which he most widely known. As the last Governor of Hong Kong he oversaw the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. In 1998, he wrote East and West, a book on Asia and its relations with the rest of the world. His interest in both the former colony and China remains and he is widely recognised as one of the foremost commentators on China and the new world order.
He was Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland set up under the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which reported in 1999.
In September 1999 he was appointed European Commissioner for External Relations, a post he held until November 2004. On leaving office in Brussels he was made a life peer. Lord Patten is also Chancellor of Newcastle and Oxford Universities.
He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, and Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He was appointed Chancellor of Newcastle University in 1999 and elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 2003.
His book Not Quite The Diplomat (US title Cousins and Strangers) was published in October 2005. His work What Next was published in 2008, this book focussed on issues ranging from globalisation to the fraying of the nation state.
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