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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 12:16 GMT
Should elections be delayed?
The UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is coming under increasing pressure not to hold any elections in May because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Local elections are due to be held on 3 May and it has also been suggested as a possible general election date.
But the leaders of Devon and Cornwall county councils, say it would be wrong for the vote to go ahead while the countryside is a no-go area for many people and some farmers are effectively prisoners on their own lands.
Should elections take place during the foot-and-mouth crisis?
The country is not a "no-go" area. Farmers are allowed off their farms subject to taking the appropriate precautions. The election of 1945 was not postponed despite the widespread destruction of the UK's infrastructure, rationing and the fact that we were still at war with Japan. Let's get the election over and done with and as quickly as possible. Then we can get on with far more important things.
Aubrey Simcox, Devon, UK
The local elections must be postponed in the worst hit areas.
I have just seen Margaret Beckett on TV giving a prime example of this Government's complete lack of knowledge or concern for the plight of the countryside. She seems to think that it is only the animals who are quarantined but in reality when a farm is in a restricted area then nobody can leave the farm and then return.
It is clear that Blair intends to go ahead with the elections, without considering the best interests of the country. Tens of thousands of decomposing bodies of dead sheep cattle and pigs are left heaped in the fields for up to a week, allowing predators, crows and foxes, to carry and spread the infection - yet still the army are not called in, in force, to help with the massive task of disposal - why? Because this would involve calling a state of emergency, and no election could go ahead under such conditions.
Surely it is time to treat the situation as the crisis that it is, and tackle the escalation before it is too late? The Government seems willing to allow farming in the UK to be destroyed forever, rather than take decisive action.
Tom Egan, UK
Tony Blair will hold the election this year come hell or high water, because we will be deeper in a recession next year and would take it out on the Government were he to hold the election then. It doesn't matter much anyway, because after the next election Gordon Brown will be Prime Minister and the farmers will be finished.
The Tories and their supporters are running scared hence their call to postpone elections. How is it that farmers can all meet up in village squares to attack the government and vow "all out war" and at the same time tell us that they can't pop to their local polling station - I think political games are afoot.
With all this bad news floating about, Stock Market, foot-and-mouth, the Vaz affair, train crashes, hospital waiting lists, teacher unrest. Blair needs to get the election out of the way before the masses (Sun readers) realise what a liability he and his Government are!
I get the impression Tony has finally decided to give up the fight. Look what he's done for us - foot-and-mouth, fuel blockades, "two" Mandelson messes, Pointless Prescott's "integrated transport policy", ripping off the pensioners, the air traffic control fiasco, a whole swathe of stealth taxes, selling off the Dome for peanuts, teacher shortages, nursing shortages - perhaps he's finally noticed that he seems to break everything he touches. Perhaps he's realised that maybe we've noticed too, so holding the election in May would be his way of getting out as fast as possible.
Whatever happens, I'll be interested to see how the spin-masters attempt to talk us into voting for him again, if they do it'll be time to open up a new category for the Guinness Book Of Records - "World's Most Persuadable Nation".
Al, Somerset, UK
The election should be cancelled and held when the foot-and-mouth epidemic is in decline. Everyone has the right to vote in this country, which is a point the government should remember.
Election! Is this what Blair is worried about?
Does he have no idea of the severity of the foot-and-mouth crisis? He should forget any plans of the election until the crisis subdues. He is doing more damage to himself and his party by taking this ignorant standpoint.
All previous Prime Ministers have been able to call an election when it best suited them. Why should the same thing be denied to Tony Blair? Do you really believe Margaret Thatcher would have changed her mind in the same circumstances? Anyway, I'd have thought that farmers would be desperate to vote in a bid to oust the Government they consider has caused all their problems, and the most effective way they can do this is by post. Or are they worried that Tony might win again.
Of course Blair won't postpone the elections, the vast majority of the people restricted by foot-and-mouth wouldn't vote for him anyway and he knows it, so actually this goes very much in his favour. You can bet your life though that if Islington was cordoned off with his supporters unable to vote he'd postpone quickly enough.
The trauma of losing your herd of sheep or other livestock can equal that of losing a member of your family. You could equate it to having the factory you built up over years suddenly burn down. Then multiply this by several thousand and you'll see why farmers and many more in rural communities just don't want to think about elections. If the crisis continues, holding the elections in May will disenfranchise a whole sector of society.
It is high time that the UK General Election date should be fixed at the end of the five-year period of the elected Government. This will be more democratic and not give unfair advantage to the ruling party.
Darren Hazard, England
Surely the correct time for something as important as any political election is not when the Country is in the grips of a crisis. No matter what the rest of the world think, we should postpone the elections - County and National - until we can all focus on them fully.
Yes, we could all use postal ballots, but who knows whether they will get there or not? Let's learn from the American fiasco and have as few problems as possible at such an important time as electing the next P.M. new or old!
I think the election should be postponed while Britain defeats the foot and mouth outbreak. We need to concentrate on eradicating foot and mouth before an election is allowed to proceed.
Of course Tony Blair
should be allowed to call the election when he sees fit. With modern voting methods i.e. postal voting you can vote without leaving the comfort of your own home.
Reading the comments below, I have come to the conclusion that almost everyone who wants the election postponed is opposed to the present government and is cynically trying to use the foot-and-mouth tragedy as a political weapon. They want to put off the election to see if the Conservative Party's chances improve, and that is as undemocratic as allowing the prime minister of the day decide when to call the election, as now. The answer: fixed terms like almost everywhere else!
Pam Hart, England
I agree with Rupert Harden. Whilst I'm very much a city dweller - a friend of mine visited the countryside the other day and brought back news of gridlock, pungent smells and mild hysteria! Thankfully some of us urbanites recognise the contribution from all parts of our country.
Chris said the farmers created this situation with foot and mouth.
Sorry but from what I have read it came into the country in imported
meat from an infected country. I feel the government has more control
over this than the farmers do. The elections should be postponed until
all have their right to vote. Tony Blair I feel wants to go to the country before all the truth comes out.
Come on Mr Blair, I can see through your dirty little scheme, you want to cull all those poor defenceless animals so as you can go ahead with your election plans. I am a farmer, don't even consider sending the ministry in to cull my flock.
Several farmers were among those last autumn who would have been more than happy to bring a democratically elected government down, and were clearly guilty of sedition. Now they may have a chance to change the government by the proper means - they don't want it. Also - those people calling for the use of the army - are they the same people who threw up their hands in horror when it was suggested the army might have been used to move fuel last year? Arrogant hypocrisy or what?!
Perhaps we could postpone all elections until there's a party
that has policies that are worth voting for.
The County Council elections should go ahead, and hopefully the General Election too. No one's been restricted from getting to work, and even if some farmers don't want to leave their land, they can apply for a postal vote - there's been no disruption to the post despite the outbreak. I imagine the Tories are desperate to have the date postponed - the polls show they're going to go the same way as the sheep and cattle come May 3rd.
Anne Wilkes, UK
If Pamela Armstrong think it's OK to discount 2% of the electorate because they're farmers, would it be OK to discount 5-6% of the electorate on the grounds that they're ethnic minorities? Would that be just as democratic?
The Countryside Alliance have postponed their protest march, foxhunts have been cancelled, Cheltenham postponed, Rugby matches called off, holidays cancelled and visits to the countryside stopped. Yet it seems that Tony is above all this and even if everyone else has to make sacrifices the Government can go ahead with the election whenever it likes, despite the fact that it doesn't have to be held for another 12 months.
There is no way that the elections. should be held until all the foot-and-mouth difficulties are over. All Blair thinks about is himself - he has no interest in the UK at all. The British people should see through the New Labour and vote Tory at the next election say in a year's time.
The British Parliament is a funny animal that refuses electronic voting in case MPs defy the whips in the lobbies and vote against their party. Similarly, canvassers are certain that they can persuade people on the door step to change party allegiance. I think neither case works, and I don't see any reason to delay the vote.
Why is Tony Blair so determined to go ahead with the election? Is there something on the horizon that only he knows about?
Am I alone is thinking there is a sinister link between the sudden decision to slaughter millions of healthy animals and the Government's desperation to hold an election on May 3rd. Of course the elections should be delayed. If even one person is unable to vote because of the restrictions in place, then that should be enough.
Peter Kidds, UK
There is no law that states a General Election should take place on the 3rd of May. Tony Blair should stop being so arrogant and wait until the foot-and-mouth disease has gone. After the next General Election, a law should be passed that the Government must stay for a fixed term, say 4 years. This would put a stop to all this spinning and whispering about when an election will be called. I would also like to see a box on the ballot paper for "none of the listed candidates".
It would be ridiculous to postpone the election after May, the country needs to be able to say what it thinks about the current Government, a small minority of farmers and people in rural areas should not be allowed to dictate to the rest of the nation. The foot-and-mouth crisis has been precipitated by their greed and intensive farming practices for too long, it's about time they began to realise that they are responsible for their own mistakes and stop bleating about having life hard. The rural vote hardly matters anyway does it, we live in a country which is in majority urban - lets have an election and in May.
I work in the tourist industry, with the main business being activity holidays does Mr Blair assume I even have time to think about the election with all the cancellations and re-organising of holidays that we have to do, all my wasted advertising bills come at the end of this month but none of the expected final payments for the holidays. Nice to see dear Tony with plenty time to visit Walsend Shipyard to congratulate them on there new order for an oil rig but still no time to visit the people who are on a "downer".
Of course the elections should be cancelled. The Prime Minister's seeming determination to hold a May election makes one wonder what he knows that we don't. What disasters are going to happen to the economy if he waits any longer?
There is a wide chasm between the local elections and the general election.
Local elections, with local candidates discussing local issues should possibly be postponed so that those affected can participate.
The general election is not needed for another year anyway, but if it were, in this age of express media, telecommunication and electronic means there is no reason why it couldn't go ahead with the wide-spread use of postal voting.
So let's kill all speculation about a General Election which is unnecessary for 12 months, and postpone the locals until such time as everyone is able to participate.
I think its sad that a three quarters of our country have no idea what is happening in the other quarter. Before passing judgement on farmers, people should know what they're talking about.l
If Blair had any inkling of what is right, he would not call an election.
But since he has no such inkling, let him go to the country and face its wrath for treating the rural communities with such ill-disguised contempt.
Of course the elections should go ahead. Panic and hysteria may be the Opposition way, but, sad as foot-and-mouth is - it is in an industry that represents less than 1% of GDP. Delaying elections for industrial reasons would set us off on a slippery slope that could end in anti-democratic chaos.
The trouble with postal ballots is that once you drop your envelope into the post box, you have no way of knowing whether your vote ever gets there - or what might happen to it along the way. I'd rather consign my ballot paper to a locked box under supervision than to a postal sorting office.
Paula Black, UK
Why hold up the election until the epidemic is over? The voting public should be able to select a government which has a good head for crisis, which the country is experiencing a lot at present.
There is no reason why elections cannot be held whenever the PM sees fit. In the 21st century there are plenty of ways for politicians to get their views heard. Those who claim Blair has another year to go should remember that very few UK PMs take the full 5 years unless they think they are going to lose - look at Major! Thatcher called elections when she thought she had the best chance to win, and she did!
I feel that to hold an election now would be to disenfranchise large tracts of the rural community. Canvassers would spend more time stood in tubs of disinfectant than they would spreading their propaganda. I feel that Tony should hold off until later in the year and give the Tories a chance to get their act together. I pray for the farmers.
Perhaps Pamela Armstrong could explain how 98% of Britain's population would be disenfranchised if the elections were postponed. It appears, though, that she is more than happy for 2% to be disenfranchised if the elections were to go ahead. She calls those 2% right-wingers!!
Holding a general election on May 3 would be a political decision, informed by opinion polls, spin merchants, focus groups, etc. The more negative opinion encountered, the less likely there is to be a general election.
However, this (and most other comments) misses the point that the LOCAL Elections are NOT optional. The council members up for election have reached the end of their (fixed) terms. To delay is possible but requires (I believe) an Act of Parliament.
Paul Joyce, UK
Not only should a general election be delayed, but the UK 2001 Census due on 29 April should be as well. The census website states - " A census form will be delivered by hand to every household to complete and return." Surely personal delivery by hand will increase the risk of F&M transmission up every farm track there is?
The election must go ahead in May 2001 or next year.If foot-and-mouth disease can be spread by air, why do the politicians not keep quiet and use lime pits to destroy the infected animals?
The UK has a severe crisis on its hands. The Government should concentrate on solving this rather than on a general election. It is unfair to the thousands of people involved in the farming and food industry as well as the country inns and zoos etc who face an uncertain future to have to worry about who will be their next MP.
Tony Blair should state now what his intentions are.
Tony Blair's arrogance is shining through. Keep up this act and hopefully he will be one of the new unemployed in the future.
As a Brit working abroad my memory of the tedium of watching and listening to all the flimflam of every previous election leads me to recommend no more elections until the next millennium!!
In these days of technology it's amazing that we still have to go to a public property to put a cross on a bit of paper and put it in a tin box. Why not use postal voting, e-mail voting, internet voting?
If you want these "clowns" out of office Graham, the last thing you'll want is an election soon. And you'll also need a credible opposition led by somebody who doesn't actually look like a clown.
Poor you, you've got a long wait!
Mike Holmes, Sandwich, UK
I think the election should be postponed. I work on a farm in a small village called Capel. Our business is crippled and if there is a change in government there will not be a focused effort on resolving the problem. We have suffered enough with the BSE.
The rural lobby seems to believe its demands (sometimes genuine, sometimes otherwise) should be automatically fulfilled by government. As a (lifelong) "townie" I am sick of hearing rural people wanting it both ways: wanting to keep non-locals out and then wanting these same non-locals to subsidise the "country" way of living (involving less traffic, pollution, crime). I am no fan of New Labour but am glad it does not cave in to every selfish demand of the very vocal and visible rural lobby.
Contrary to Downing Street's assertions, the issue here is not merely logistical. A general election is not a giant opinion poll. It is (or should be) a dynamic process through which parties resolve a battle of ideas on national and local stages. At best holding such a contest in the midst of this crisis would be in poor taste. At worst it would undermine the validity of the next government's mandate.
Andrew, Ohio, USA
I'm sure in this day and age we can manage a postal vote. Delays are what Blair wants. The quicker we do something about the lack of action and promises which came with the Labour government the better!
This is the 21st century for Gods sake. There are postal votes and canvassing can be done by phone. Odd is it not that those seeking a postponed election are invariably right-wingers and their press out-riders. Farmers amount to less than 2% of Britain's population. Why should the rest of us be disenfranchised because those affected could not have been bothered to take out insurance because foot and mouth was considered to be a thing of the past.
The election should go ahead. If the foot and mouth crisis were happening in 12 months time, it wouldn't be possible for there to be a delay in the election. You cannot stop elections simply because the country is in a difficult situation. Nothing - not even war - should allow our hard-fought democratic right to vote to be withheld.
Grahame Warby, United Kingdom
The politicians (on both sides) seems to be more concerned that the election will be turned into a referendum on their handling the Foot and Mouth outbreak. If elections have been held during the darkest days of war, then surely they can be held during an animal disease outbreak.
No - this isn't just about postal voting, it's about the right of people to take part in elections.
County council elections often have a wide range of candidates - many of whom live in their areas, which are now restricted. If the elections went ahead on May 3rd, many people who have a right to take part would be banned from doing so, or if they took part banned from campaigning.
It's not democratic to hold an election while potential participants are being held under what amounts to house arrest!
Holding the election during this national disaster will be the final act of this arrogant Government. Tony Blair may feel now is a good time to go to the polls, whilst we who live in the countryside are otherwise engaged. However he is sorely mistaken. If he wants the vote now, then go on Blair! We will still get you out as you have not only underestimated foot-and-mouth disease, you have underestimated the contempt felt by so many in this country towards yourself and your corrupt Government.
Of course the elections shouldn't be delayed. If the farmers can't get out to vote that's their problem. They created this situation in the first place.
I do not understand why people are calling for local elections to be postponed when the polling station is situated very close to where they live.
I live in a rural area, where the local school is used as a polling station. I travel 10 times further to work than I would do to vote!
If there are no restrictions in place limiting the movements of people, who after all have to work and go out to buy food supplies etc, then I see no value in stopping them voting in what is, after all, their local area.
Mike Burns, Scotland, UK
Lets hurry up and get these clowns out of government.
There are many "townies" out there who don't
realise just how serious foot-and-mouth is.
People must respect the farming community and all
those connected to the industry during these
To have elections would be
foolish. I'm not a farmer, but I live in the
countryside. It's not a case of going overboard, it's
just that now is simply not the right time.
Oh, and to those out there not adhering to
requests to keep off farmland and forestry sights,
KEEP OUT!!!!! The signs are there for a reason!
If the current emergency measures are affecting the ability to vote, then elections should not take place. This is a democracy after all!
Oh dear, poor Tony may have to postpone the election. An inconvenience to him, but
absolutely nothing compared to the tragedy which is taking place on farms around the country.
Michael J. Turberville, London, UK
I think the election should continue, if only to get the irritating political mudslinging out of the way for a few more years. Anyway, this might be an opportunity to improve the voting system. The UK is not quite up to e-voting yet, but postal votes can be delivered and collected amidst this crisis. And to be honest, if everyone in the country has a postal vote, rather than traipsing to the community hall once every few years, more people might vote.
I do not believe that the election should be delayed. The affected areas are, I understand, still receiving deliveries of mail. Therefore it should be perfectly possible for the electorate to make its views known via postal ballots - and let us not forget that it is hearing the voice of the electorate that is important.
Blair does not need to call an election for another 12 months. It would be disgraceful to rush the country into a premature election at this time of high crisis
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