'It feels like I’ve gone back in time’ declared a stranded journalist on Radio 4’s PM, ‘Everyone's travelling by train and talking about the Liberals winning a general election’. After the first leaders' debate Nick Clegg's popularity soared and the eruption of Mount Eyjafjallajokull grounded all air traffic across Northern Europe for the best part of a week.
The Liberal Democrats have perennially been viewed as the spare wheel of British politics. One of those features that you know are there but doesn't disrupt the normal flow of events. Yet it is events that have brought chaos to this past week and it is often the unexpected that foils the most meticulous of plans. Just as many holiday makers expected to return last weekend at the end of their Easter break, David Cameron and Gordon Brown had campaign strategies – focus group tested and ad space bought – that suddenly went out the window.
Speaking on Newsnight earlier this week the President of Iceland adopted a remarkably relaxed attitude towards the chaos that his volcano was causing. Perhaps because he had realised that sometimes things happen that we cannot foresee, and after all the volcano isn't really his. The closure of vast swathes of airspace caused mass disruption and threatened economic ruin for the already embattled airline industry, but also left me marvelling at the limits to our mastery of the universe.
A colleague commented that the world became a lot bigger this week. We have conquered the heights and the depths of the earth, we have voyaged to the moon and looked far beyond, yet so much remains out of reach. For all that our human progress has achieved so much is still unknown.
While the eruption calms, and flights resume as if nothing had happened it seems British politics has changed. Without securing the same knock out win in the second debate Nick Clegg held his own and showed that his party cannot be dismissed as an inconvenient auxiliary. As David Cameron and Nick Clegg vied to convince the sceptical public that they offered the best hope for change the three parties have had to react to events. The carefully crafted strategies and messages have had to change. Gordon Brown risks being shut out of the contest altogether; David Cameron's chief opponent is no longer Brown; and Nick Clegg is unable to avoid media scrutiny granted to the underdog.
Normality is sometimes nice, but it can also be pretty mundane. The unexpected brings things to life, who would have ever expected that the BBC would have a 'Live: as it happened' page for geological activity, or it would dominate the list of most read stories. And an election campaign that threatened to bore the electorate has come alive.
The writer to the Hebrews reminds us (11v1) that ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see'. This is not blind optimism but, for me at least, it is a nudge to embrace the unexpected. Author Don Miller recently suggested we ask 'what if'? a little more. What if we accepted that we will not always know the outcome until we get there? What if in our walk with God we were prepared to take some risks? What if we allowed God to set our agenda, and not try to dictate his? And perhaps, just perhaps, if we could show the world that our faith is an adventure, and not a trap we would stand a better chance of holding their attention.
Danny Webster, Parliamentary Officer
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