UK Politics

God not a Lib Dem, says minister

Steve Webb MP
Image caption Steve Webb has been an MP since 1997

God is "a liberal" but "not a Liberal Democrat", Pensions Minister Steve Webb has said.

The Lib Dem MP told The House Magazine his party was not "secular" or "hostile" to religion but did not "give faith an unduly privileged position".

Party leader Nick Clegg said in 2007 that he did not believe in God.

But Mr Webb said religion was a matter of choice, which was a "natural fit" with liberal ideology. The Lib Dem annual conference begins on Saturday.

Mr Webb, a practising Christian, has been a minister since the coalition formed in 2010.

He has contributed to a new book called Lib Dems Do God, with several of his colleagues also discussing their faith.

'Distinction'

Earlier this week, Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland criticised a "dangerous drift" within the party towards a situation where politicians worship in private but do not espouse their views when making policy statements or decisions.

He was one of a handful of Lib Dem MPs not to support plans to legalise gay marriage in England and Wales.

Mr Webb has received much press coverage in recent weeks for claiming in the foreword to Lib Dems Do God, that God "must be a liberal".

He explained his statement to The House Magazine, saying: "What I say in the foreword is God is a liberal, not a Liberal Democrat. I haven't checked the membership survey, but you'll appreciate the distinction."

He added: "All I was saying essentially was that if you believe the Christian gospel, you believe that freedom really matters. It's about freedom of choice; it's not about being forced to do things. And therefore that's a natural fit for people like us.

"I work very closely with Christian colleagues in other parties but I feel as a Christian very at home in the Liberal Democrats. I feel the faith values and the political values mesh very well and we haven't always given that impression.

"Because we are, I was going to say, a secular party but that's not the right word. But we certainly wouldn't want to discriminate on faith grounds and give faith an unduly privileged position, that's sometimes been understood by people as being hostile to faith. And part of what we are trying to do is say that's not where we are."

Echoing Mr Mulholland's sentiments, he said: "Just as if you are a passionate socialist or humanist or whatever, you just don't disentangle all those things and then do your job. It's part of who you are, your values, your lifestyle, your priorities.

"I don't expect people who don't come from my faith background to accept my faith justifications for things. I have to have other reasons to persuade them."

In an interview in 2007, Mr Clegg said he did not believe in God but he has stressed he respects those who hold religious views and that he is happy for his children - whose mother is Spanish - to be brought up as Catholics.

Mr Webb, MP for Thornbury and Yate, has been in Parliament since 1997.