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Picture 14 Was the man who asked an anti-Pope question during last week's election debate a civil servant?  I ask because of today's exciting news about Whitehall plans to get Pope Benedict to open an abortion ward during his visit to Britain later this year.

The story set me thinking about Nick Clegg's answer, which impressed me.  He described himself as not being "a man of faith".  In an age in which politicians genuflect to every conceivable interest group, I admire Clegg for his willingness potentially to alienate millions of voters.

Then again, the Liberal Democrat leader may have been knowing as well as straightforward.  Very many religious believers cast their votes for the same reasons as their non-believing fellow citizens.  Furthermore, no faith is identifiable with one Party.

None the less, religious belief plays a part in UK elections.  Look no further than Northern Ireland.  The last London Mayoral election was marked by confessional politics, as Jews turned out for Boris Johnson in North London and Muslims for Ken Livingstone in the East End.

The Roman Catholic Church itself produced a document for this election which a church source described as "very much in line with Tory policy… although it is not intended to be explicitly political in either direction". Most candidates will face a hustings hosted by a local Church.

So although faith isn't a voting determinant for many believing voters, it is for others.  Both Clegg's and his party's views on faith and politics and the relationship between the two are thus of special interest to them. The best analysis I've found to date is produced by the Christian Institute.

It doesn't cover some issues that matter to millions of Christian voters, such as international aid or homelessness. It concentrates exclusively on what are often called "moral" issues (which invites debate on what an immoral issue might be).

Liberal Anglicans who read it will draw different conclusions from, say, conservative evangelicals.  But the story it tells about the Lib Dems is revealing, and I summarise the main points below in a "for and against" format:

  • Religion as protected characteristic in public equality duties: AGAINST
  • More narrow employment protection for faith group member in Equality BIll: FOR
  • Religious harassment offence: AGAINST
  • Criminalising religious hatred.  AGAINST
  • Abolishing blasphemy laws: FOR
  • Medically assisted dying: FOR, but MPs should have a free vote
  • Abortion: Free votes (Clegg voted against reducing the present limits)
  • Availability of morning-after pill in schools: FOR
  • Animal-Human embryos: Free vote (Clegg voted for)
  • Saviour siblings: Free vote (Clegg voted for)
  • "Need for a father" requirement for IVF children: Free vote (Clegg voted against)
  • Tax breaks for married couples and civil partners: AGAINST
  • School freedom to employ Christian staff: AGAINST
  • School freedom to seek pupils who share school's ethos: AGAINST
  • Freedom of faith schools to teach sex education according to religious beliefs: AGAINST
  • Compulsory national sex education curriculum: FOR
  • Right to withdraw children from sex education classes: FOR – but should be curtailed "long before [children] are 15"
  • Labour plans to regulate home education: AGAINST
  • Present ban on religious bodies holding TV and radio licences: FOR
  • Civil Partnerships: FOR
  • Gay marriage: No policy, but Clegg is FOR
  • Adoption by gay couples: FOR
  • Sexual orientation regulations: FOR
  • Incitement to homophobic hatred: FOR, but free vote in Lords
  • Prison for drugs' possession: AGAINST
  • Downgrading ecstasy's classification: FOR
  • Downgrading cannabis' classification: FOR
  • 24 hour drinking: AGAINST
  • Licensing brothels: FOR
  • Lowering age at which alcohol can be bought to 16: FOR
  • Pornography now available to 18-year-olds to be available to 16-year-olds: Conference voted FOR
  • 16-years-olds to be able to visit sex shops: Conference voted FOR
  • Scrapping super casinos: FOR

Paul Goodman

96 comments for: Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats, faith and the election

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