Where’s Cameron’s Big Society when we need it?

Kings Croos St Pancras Christmas travel chaos

Hundreds are stranded by the snow and yet there’s no sign of David Cameron or his big idea

BY Max Eilenberg LAST UPDATED AT 16:06 ON Tue 21 Dec 2010

Perhaps the thousands of people stranded at Heathrow should count themselves lucky. At least they're inside and out of the cold. They're not having to stand outside for hours in sub-zero temperatures, like the unhappy travellers hoping to catch a Eurostar train from St Pancras yesterday.
 
Shivering queues at one stage stretched for hundreds of yards outside the main terminal and along the Euston Road, past the British Library. With Eurostar already running a reduced service, the pressure was only increased by the large number of refugees from the airlines as Heathrow cancelled all short-haul flights to Europe.

For many of them, the outlook was bleak: a freezing night in the cavernous, unheated halls of St Pancras, or a scramble to find somewhere ­ anywhere ­ in London's overbooked and overpriced hotels.
 
How could it all go so wrong?
 
Such scenes put us to shame. It's the same up and down the country. As Neil Clark wrote here yesterday, the private sector can't get its act together ­ hence the transport chaos - while the government washes its hands.

Prime Minister David Cameron, normally to be found some distance behind the shit deflector that is Nick Clegg, is nowhere to be seen. London's Mayor Boris Johnson, never at a loss for a pointless phrase in Latin, has nothing to say.
 
Is this what the Tories meant by the Big Society? Did they intend the state to have no responsibility in crises like this? That people - families, the elderly, businessmen and women, tourists - should be stranded in Arctic conditions and left to fend for themselves?

"I don't know," said a policeman at St Pancras when I asked him whether anyone was going to look after the poor unfortunates queueing for a train to Paris. "It's beyond my remit." He had a dog. Perhaps this kind of indifference is part of the government's anti-immigration policy.
 
Here's a suggestion. We've got a national emergency on our hands, and no way to mobilise support. If David Cameron wants the Big Society to take over, he should give us some tools to help.

Angry students mobilise in their thousands using Twitter. They come together, swiftly and effectively, with only a few minutes' notice, at times of crisis. Why not learn something from them?
 
Anyone with a spare bed in north London could offer a refuge to those poor travellers at St Pancras. It's true that they might not want to lose their place in the interminable queue. That could be easily solved: let Eurostar give them numbers so they can return in the morning, after a good night's sleep.
 
More to the point, they might be wary of taking help from strangers. So let the government set up a trusted site where we can register to offer assistance in such a crisis. Bring the Blitz spirit into the 21st century.

Surely that's the sort of slogan the Tories would love to see attached to their Big Society idea?

But they shouldn't expect us to do it all on our own when they've let us down as badly as this. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.