Have we got news for you . . Boris is in running for rector

HIS floppy fringe and bumbling manner have made him one of the most colourful MPs in the House of Commons.

Now TV personality and occasional Tory frontbencher Boris Johnson has turned his attention to the race to become Edinburgh University rector.

The former Spectator editor has joined Green MSP Mark Ballard, award-winning documentary maker John Pilger and former Scottish Arts Council chairman Magnus Linklater in the battle to succeed former Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell.

The winner will follow in the footsteps of famous names such as former prime ministers Winston Churchill, Stanley Baldwin, William Gladstone and David Lloyd George, Chancellor Gordon Brown, scientist Alexander Fleming and Mastermind presenter Magnus Magnusson.

Despite a reputation for putting his foot in it - he was famously forced to apologise for a Spectator article that denounced Liverpool for being "hooked on grief" in the wake of Ken Bigley's murder in Iraq - Mr Johnson is known as one of the brightest of the bright young Tories.

Upon being made Tory leader last year, David Cameron promoted him to the role of shadow higher education minister.

The Henley on Thames MP also has a proven wit, having frequently sparred on satirical TV show Have I Got News For You with comedians Ian Hislop and Paul Merton.

However, Mr Johnson, 41, was typically self-deprecating in announcing his candidacy.

"I'm greatly looking forward to coming up to Edinburgh and intend to run a lively campaign with a serious message. I want to use my undeserving public profile to help undergraduates and staff and promote the university's reputation to potential students," he said. "The position of rector is a fantastic opportunity to be an ambassador for a world-class university and help students and staff have their voices heard.

"Although my parliamentary duties will keep me busy in London, now that I've given up The Spectator job I can dedicate time to the rectorship and it would be an honour to follow in the footsteps of Tam Dalyell.

"As the Tory higher education spokesman at Westminster I want to learn all about students' problems and the challenges facing a university like Edinburgh.

"I'm encouraged by the number of student volunteers offering to help me and am delighted they consider me up to the job."

Indeed, backers claim Mr Johnson has been overwhelmed by student support.

Campaign secretary and third-year economics student Alastair Leggate said: "Support for Boris is coming in from all quarters of the university, including many shades of political opinion. Our campaign is not about party politics, it's about the need for a big personality who can represent students and staff at the top table.

"Edinburgh's rector has often been a local person in the past. With Boris as rector we can really put Edinburgh back on the map and have our views listened to."

Nominations close on Tuesday and it is not clear if other names will be added to the quartet now vying for the student vote.

Mr Linklater said: "I am looking forward to a vigorous campaign because higher education is at a critical stage."

Mr Pilger, who is Australian but lives in London, said: "I am honoured to have been asked to stand by the Palestine Solidarity Movement for what is a prestigious post at a great institution."

Mr Ballard, nominated by the student environmental organisation People and Planet, added: "As a former Edinburgh University student, I remember when Donnie Munro made his rectorial address to the students. I never imagined there would be a chance I would be in that position myself."