Nick Clegg revealed that he does not believe in God as he sketched out his policy priorities on his first full day as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Asked: "Do you believe in God?" during a BBC Radio Five interview, Mr Clegg replied simply: "No." Later he issued a statement in an attempt to ensure that his answer did not offend people with religious beliefs.
Mr Clegg, whose Spanish wife, Miriam, is Catholic, said later: "I have enormous respect for people who have religious faith. I'm married to a Catholic and am committed to bringing my children up as Catholics... the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or mind."
Mr Clegg also refused to say whether he had ever taken illegal drugs. He said: "I'm going to cast a veil over that. It's the one thing I agree with David Cameron on. I think politicians are entitled to a private life before they go into politics."
Mr Clegg, who met sixth-form students in London on his first visit as leader, put social mobility at the top of his agenda. He said: "I will fight for a society where everyone gets a fair chance in life, and no one is condemned by the circumstances of their birth. Education has got to be front and centre of Britain's agenda if we're going to make that happen. So I will raise funding for the poorest children to the levels in private schools. And every family must be free from poverty."
Today Mr Clegg will promote Chris Huhne, who he beat narrowly to win the leadership, from his post of environment spokesman when he names his Shadow cabinet. He will take on either Mr Clegg's home affairs brief or become foreign affairs spokesman. Vince Cable will remain Treasury spokesman and will see his deputy leader's role beefed after his strong performance as acting leader after the resignation of Sir Menzies Campbell.
There will be senior jobs for David Laws and Steve Webb and probable promotions for Danny Alexander, Julia Goldsworthy, Tim Farron and Stephen Williams. Mr Clegg will also bring back elder statesmen, who are seen as popular with the public, for specific tasks outside the frontbench. Charles Kennedy will sharpen up the party's policy on Europe, Sir Menzies Campbell will study whether the Government has broken its covenant with the armed forces and Baroness Williams will look at transatlantic relations. Gordon Brown called Mr Clegg to congratulate him and said he looked forward to working with him on issues such as constitutional reform.
Read more from Andrew Grice online at www.independent.co.uk/todayinpolitics
What others say about politics and religion
"You talk about it in our political system and people think you're a nutter."
"We don't do God."
"I don't recall the sermons my father preached. But I will never forget these words he left me with: 'We must be givers as well as getters.' Put something back. And by doing so make a difference. This is my moral compass."
"I believe in God and try to get to church more often than at Christmas, but perhaps not as often as I should."
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury
"This is... a country with a nominally Christian majority... and whoever becomes Prime Minister has to understand that and work with it rather than against the grain of it."Reuse content