Opinion: ‘Leadership not followship required’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 20th June 2021, 1:20 pm
Two vaccinations offer th best protection against the Delta variant.
Two vaccinations offer th best protection against the Delta variant.

It should not have been a big surprise that many of the current coronavirus restrictions have been extended.

The Delta variant is on the rise: while vaccination is having a positive effect, it works best after people have had two shots.

Furthermore, not everyone has been vaccinated yet: we’re not at herd immunity levels.

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For the time being, we are in a race against time: the more vaccinations, the more likely we will be able to suppress the virus and go back to normal.

This latest delay to liberation, however, was foreseeable. If the Government had moved more quickly, we would have stopped travel from India sooner, and thus perhaps truncated the spread of the new variant. But once again, the Government is playing catch-up with events.

There has been some suggestion that we were slow to stop travel from India because the Conservative Government wanted to secure a trade deal with India. While I understand the attractions of securing such a deal, they pale in comparison to protecting the lives of our citizens, which is the first duty of the state. However, if there is a re-occurring motif of this Government, is its inability to think in medium to long term timeframes.

The pandemic is one example: how many times was this Government warned to enact lockdowns earlier than what they did? How many lives and jobs would have been preserved if we had been more led by the medium- and long-term advantages rather than upset by short term disruptions?

It’s irrefutable that countries that locked down earlier have preserved more life and moved far more quickly back to normal. Even when there are “pop-ups” of new outbreaks, these tend to be smaller and far more easily contained.

To be fair, it’s not entirely the Government’s fault. We live in an era of social media, and opinions wash in and out like the tide. It can be easy to look at Twitter and see a wave of opprobrium and think to oneself that it’s not a good idea to do something unpopular.

However, what is unpopular now on social media, may not be right for the country, nor even popular in a longer timeframe.

I often get the impression that this Government, far from being secure with its sizeable majority, is hanging on by its fingernails, living and dying by the words on Facebook posts and tabloid front pages. The Conservatives may confuse this monitoring with actually serving the people. However, that’s not leadership, it’s followship. They are chasing after the good opinion of a select few rather than enacting good policy which benefits all.

There’s nothing wrong with being popular: I’m in politics and understand popularity helps but only when it is for the right reasons. However, if chasing popularity is all I did, I wouldn’t be a good councillor. I have to think about those whom I serve, the community in which I live, and what will benefit the city as a whole.

If we as a Labour Group focus on that, this is far more likely to be helpful to the people of Peterborough than chasing after and being fearful about the phantoms of media opinion. We can do better.