Matthew Parris gives a lengthy list of past politicians and their belief or lack of belief in God. He concludes that Nick Clegg is in good company (with the proviso that none many past leaders actually owned up to disbelief in God, like Nick):
My inquiries led me, almost ten years ago, to Lord Jenkins of Hillhead � the late Roy Jenkins, historian, Home Secretary, Chancellor, party leader and biographer of William Gladstone.
Lord Jenkins and I started with Queen Victoria's first Prime Minister, Viscount Melbourne. “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life,” Lord M said; and “while I cannot be regarded as a pillar, I must be regarded as a buttress of the Church, because I support it from the outside”.
A No there, then; Nick Clegg has at least one distinguished former Liberal Leader for company. Lord Jenkins gave Peel a Probably, Russell a Probably Not, and an open verdict on Palmerston, Aberdeen and Derby.
Gladstone was the 19th-century exception. A true believer, no question about it.
Benjamin Disraeli? Secular, I think. “Sensible men are all of the same religion,” runs the exchange in his novel Endymion.
“And, pray, what is that?” inquired the Prince.
“Sensible men never tell.”
Jenkins and I gave a probable No to Rosebery, too. The present Lord Salisbury thought his ancestor had a quiet but firm faith. David Lloyd George, “that siren-footed bard, utterly detatched from our notions of good and evil”? Unlikely. Bonar Law? Probably not. Baldwin? Yes.
Macdonald and Chamberlain? Actively uninterested. Churchill believed in Providence, but would not have got on with God at all. Attlee told his biographer privately he had no faith. There is no evidence for any lively Christianity on Eden's part; Macmillan took a somewhat theatrical interest in the Church; and Sir Alec Douglas-Home is a definite though quiet Yes.
Of Harold Wilson, his wife Mary would only say “religion was part of his tradition”. James Callaghan struck me as a mellow pessimist on such matters; and I never sensed any abiding belief on Ted Heath's part. Though hardly un-Christian, friends report a persistent difficulty in getting John Major into church.
Which leaves us, after an almost two-century sweep, with a clear majority of agnostics or atheists, and two enthusiasts for Christian witness: Gladstone and Blair.