It’s been a long week of news: eight days, almost 1,000 miles of driving and two very different communities facing disastrous events. In both Glasgow and Boston people have pulled together; given one another support; talked to reporters, who asked, in the main, sensitive questions; and complained about officials when they thought they deserved it. In short, they have demonstrated that when things get bad, despite claims to the contrary, Britain is far from being broken.The police helicopter crash at the Clutha Vaults in Glasgow was as startling as news events get – an appalling tragedy with nine people dead and a dozen so badly injured they spent at least one night in hospital. But the response from people in the city was respectful and dignified. Locals passing the crash site gathered at the police cordon and just stood in the cold, a constantly-changing audience watching the slow progress of the recovery operation in silence. Others more personally involved made their way through to the inner cordon that was busy with news crews and photographers, to share their experiences and thoughts with one another and with those of us reporting on it. The courage and reserve they displayed was remarkable – even the traumatised relatives of some of those lying dead in the wreckage of the bar directed their frustration in well-aimed bursts and thanked us afterwards for giving them a chance to have their say. Everyone I met at the Clutha Vaults was a credit to their city. No sooner had the last bodies been driven out past the emergency services’ guard of honour than the warnings began of coastal flooding. By Thursday night I was in Boston on the wide open Lincolnshire fens, watching another community cope with unexpected disaster with the same good manners and determination to help one another that had been on display in Glasgow. A local policeman complained to me that people had driven into Boston at high tide just to watch events unfold – he thought they were inconsiderate, making it difficult for the emergency services to do their jobs. But it looked to me like a version of what happened in Glasgow – locals making sense of things, coming to see for themselves what was happening as three hundred homes in their town were flooded. By Friday morning some of those same locals had created a volunteer clean up crew and set to work, and the following day someone was collecting cash in the town centre to buy Christmas presents for flood victims’ children. And just as in Glasgow, the people most affected, those whose lives had been turned upside down, welcomed journalists in and thanked them for helping to tell their stories.
It’s too easy to trot out claims that we are living in Broken Britain, that we’ve lost our community spirit, that youngsters are yobs, and everyone is out for what they can get. The past week has been filled with sadness. And it has shown that in Britain we still have a tremendous spirit.