Lord Patten 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.
Lord Patten was appointed Governor of Hong Kong in April 1992, a position he held until 1997, overseeing the return of Hong Kong to China. He was Chairman of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland set up under the Good Friday Peace Agreement, which reported in 1999.
From 1999 to 2004 he was European Commissioner for External Relations, and in January 2005 he took his seat in the House of Lords.
He was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 2003.
His publications include What Next? Surviving the 21st Century (2008); Not Quite the Diplomat: Home Truths About World Affairs (2005) and East and West (1998), about Asia and its relations with the rest of the world.