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WHATEVER one might think of our new Lib-Con Government, there’s very good cause to lament the absence in the new coalition of Dr Evan Harris, who lost his Oxford West & Abingdon seat by fewer than 200 votes.
Harris had been the target of campaigns by at least two priests, one of whom was behind a leaflet distributed in his constituency that described him as “Dr Death”.

Evan Harris and Rowan Atkinson join forces over the proposed Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, June 2005: Getty Images

Writing on the New Statesman blog this week, Sholto Byrnes said:

If more MPs had been like him, it is highly unlikely that politicians would have come to have been held in such low regard. If more Liberal Democrats had been like him, I suspect they would be doing much better and might even have stood a genuine chance of replacing Labour as the main party of the left.
A consistently strong voice for the NHS and for science, he shared the title of  Secularist of the Year with Lord Avebury in 2009 for their work in helping abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. He has campaigned against faith schools and argued courageously in favour of abortion, euthanasia, immigration and gay rights.

Byrnes piece was robust response to a vitriolic attack on Harris by The Telegraph‘s religion editor, Rev George Pitcher, who wrote:

A stranger to principle, Harris has coat-tailed some of the most vulnerable and weak people available to him to further his dogged, secularist campaign to have people of faith – any faith – swept from the public sphere.
The Lib Dems served the purpose of providing him with a parliamentary seat, but his true love was the National Secular Society. For a doctor, he supported the strange idea that terminally ill people should be helped to kill themselves. He pretended to defend Roman Catholics by attacking the Act of Settlement, with the real aim of undermining the established Church of England.
A drab, secular determinism was his sole motivation; his parliamentary career consequently a one-trick pony.

Byrnes added:

Some readers – especially those who have described me as being ‘an apologist for religion’ – may be surprised to see me praising him. On the contrary, although I may disagree with some of Evan’s stances, I think he has been one of the most principled MPs in parliament, sticking to his convictions and standing up for a true-liberal view of free speech and of the idea of liberty itself.

Let’s now look on the bright side. We now have an atheist as deputy Prime Minister – Nick Clegg.