In the news: David Alton

David Alton, a man who has been described variously as "the Cliff Richard of political life" and as "limp and clammy as a flannel dipped in holy water", this week failed in another of his attempts to protect the human embryo.

From the end of this month, stem cells derived from cloning embryos will be allowed to be used for research on a wider range of "essential" projects than at present. Lord Alton once described the issues as "at the heart of our humanity".

He was born a true Cockney in 1951, within earshot of Bow bells. His father was an agnostic, Labour-voting car foreman, his mother a devout Roman Catholic from County Mayo, Ireland.

Lord Alton was educated at Edmund Campion Roman Catholic Grammar School, in Hornchurch. The young David became very religious and he went on to Christ's College of Education, Liverpool - where he read theology and history. Lord Alton was successively educated by Franciscans, Sisters of Mercy and Jesuits.

Jo Grimond also played a part in his education. David was so impressed by him that he joined the young Liberals, aged 15.

In 1979, he was elected Liberal MP for Liverpool, Edge Hill, in a by-election after the death of Sir Arthur Irvine. He was the country's youngest MP. He later became MP for Liverpool, Mossley Hill.

In 1992, Lord Alton announced that he would not stand for Parliament again as a Liberal Democrat because of the party's pro-abortion line.

He is now fighting the good fight in the Lords, where he uses the title Lord Professor Alton. He holds the May Makin chair in citizenship studies at Liverpool John Moores University.

Lord Alton has steadfastly interwoven his politics and his religion with a certainty that few could hope to attain.

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