It was on the road to Pisa that my family and I had our revelation of the fragility of Western civilisation. On Thursday 15 April, we heard the news that a cloud of volcanic ash had closed British airspace indefinitely. Our flight, like thousands of others, was cancelled. As the hours went by, the chaos worsened: nobody knew how long the emergency would last. I realised that my duty was to spare no expense in getting my wife and four children safely home, and ensuring that Standpoint would appear. After traversing a continent in pandemonium, with a French train strike adding insult to injury, and with the help of my magnificent colleagues at Standpoint, I was back at my desk by Sunday. We thanked God for our return in the words of Psalm 29: "I will praise you, Lord,/You have rescued me."
Our adventures have, however, left a permanent mark on me and, I suspect, most of the millions who found themselves stranded without warning. For the first time in many of our lives, we were thrown on our own resources. We came face to face with our own vulnerability and that of our way of life. In extreme situations, prayer is a real consolation, even if it is despised by those who regard God as a mere delusion. As Melanie Phillips argues in this month's issue, in banishing the Judaeo-Christian God from our lives, we in the West have parted company with much else besides. The hollowness and irrationalism of the pseudo-religions that are filling the vacuum have not prevented them from gaining a hold over our intellectual and political elites. This has been brilliantly illuminated by the eruption in Iceland.
For despite its pretensions, modern environmentalism is strangely laconic about catastrophes that cannot be blamed on Western civilisation. When confronted with the awesome effects of a volcano on air travel, our politicians proved powerless. Worse, they seemed unable to find the right language in which to articulate the anguish of countless ordinary people who were directly or indirectly caught up in these events. In May 1940, Churchill had summoned the words to transform the disaster of Dunkirk into an act of defiance. Seventy years later, the Dunkirk spirit was much in evidence among those struggling to cross the Channel, but not among those hoping to fill Churchill's shoes.
Were it not for the election campaign, most British politicians would have been on holiday abroad too. Ironically, for once they were at home, obliged to flatter the voters. And so they failed to realise the scale of the distress, to the fury of an electorate already angered by the discovery that, as Nick Cohen explains, they had been lied to about the economy, immigration, corruption, Europe and much else besides. That has been the story of this campaign: a nation in dire straits, crying out for leadership, but faced with a Hobson's choice between three ornaments of a political class that stubbornly refuses to raise its sights beyond the short-term concerns of tax and spend, let alone to defend the values that created our precarious prosperity.