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Tuesday, 10 April, 2001, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Was Blair right to delay the elections?
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has decided not to hold a general election until June so that he can concentrate on fighting the foot-and-mouth crisis.
In recent weeks he has come under increasing pressure from the leaders of other parties and from within the Cabinet not to hold it on 3 May - widely thought to be his favoured date.
Local elections, also due on 3 May will be put back until June 7. Many farmers, who are watching their livelihoods go up in smoke, will welcome the decision.
But the government has previously argued that a delay in the elections might damage the UK's tourism industry even further and send out the wrong messages abroad.
Should the elections have been delayed because of the foot-and-mouth crisis?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
It is about time that the date of an election was set by statute not by the PM.
It is quite clear that Blair's delay is for reasons of votes, that is all. But what is new?
Some contributors argue that by postponing the election the rural community are dictating to the larger population - how blinkered and selfish. First a general election is NOT required for at least another year. It may be inconvenient to New Labour and their holiday bookings, but OUR democracy doesn't require it. To those whinging about it - there are more serious issues beyond wine bars and satellite TVs.
Why attach any blame to Tony Blair?
He isn't a farmer. Why should we pay to clean up the mess created by the people who only recently threatened to prevent the majority of the hard working, tax paying (to provide agricultural subsidies) community of this country from going about their lawful business
Jim Glass, Scotland
I see that the Grand National is to be run, so at least sport is still regarded as important. I also see that a major football match had its kick off delayed to avoid clashing with an even more important episode of Eastenders.
Glad to see we have our priorities right. Soaps first, then sport, then the dogmatic fight against FMD, and finally, sharing fourth prize: the democratic process, the environment, the tourist industry, animal welfare, farming...
Her Majesty had not been advised of a General Election date so it cannot have been changed. As for the local government elections, postponing them for a month or so is not likely to make much difference to FMD. The signal this decision has sent to me is that Mr Blair prefers to sit on the fence until the last possible minute before deciding which way to jump (or until he's pushed into something by opinion polls). Maggie didn't listen enough, Tony listens too much.
Whilst I agree that Tony Blair is right to suspend the election the whole matter has only been used as a "spin" exercise to enable him to be seen as a hero cancelling everything to show he cares and will concentrate on the problem in hand.
He doesn't care one iota, will not learn by ALL the mistakes made this time and is only out for himself!
At the end of the day I have far more sympathy for the tourism industry. It is an order of magnitude larger than farming in the UK and yet we only ever seem to hear from the farmers.
David Newell, UK
I think Tony Blair was absolutely right to delay the election. I live in a region which is heavily dependent on both agriculture and tourism and I cannot understand those who say we are 'giving the wrong signal' to potential tourists by delaying. Suppose they did come, and were greeted at every turn by the sight (and smell) of piles of rotting and/ or burning carcasses? What impression would that give them? It is in everyone's interest to try and get rid of foot-and-mouth as quickly as possible and if that means restrictions, then so be it.
I think it's about time that we changed our system so that the General Election is held on a fixed date after a fixed number of years. If this was the case then people would be happy with a 'my hands are tied on this issue' approach. Since the General Election doesn't need to be called for another year, what's all the rush?
As for delaying the elections sending the wrong message to tourists from America... hasn't the images of mass graves of sheep and burning mounds of livestock done that already?
If Blair had called on the expertise of the Army (as is clearly demonstrated by the recent progress made tackling the backlog of burials) much earlier on then he would not have even had to consider postponing the election. Why he ever thought it a sign of weakness I fail to see.
The worst thing about
this was the Bishops
getting in on the act.
What is it to do with them ?
They should keep their
noses out of politics.
please. Then we can be
spared all this "will he,
won't he" nonsense.
The one thing I would like to know the answer to, is why does Tony Blair want an election this year anyway? What does he know?
I suppose Tony and his crew need to deal with this crisis before dealing with the forthcoming election crisis. As a lifelong Labour supporter, I for one have lost all faith in Blair and his party - the last Budget proved that Blair continues to ignore those of us who are subsidising his 'masterplan'. I'm not rich - I have a reasonable income, but have to live in an expensive area of the UK in order to do my job. House prices are almost beyond my reach and my standard of living is not great. I'll be interested to see how Blair deals with the farming crisis - and I'll also be interested to know how much it will cost me. I'll be looking more closely at the Conservative party from now on...
It's obvious that Blair still puts politics before the people - otherwise he would have announced the delay weeks ago, before the local authorities had produced all the papers for the local elections. But a month's delay is not enough - they should be postponed until September.
I agree with the comment that if Mr Blair really put country before party, he'd have ruled out the poll weeks ago. Would it be too late to ask that a new box be added to the ballot papers allowing to people to vote for Nobody? I want to vote but I can't see that any of the parties are actually interested in the country. Getting into power by hook or by crook seems the most important thing.
What the Prime Minister has done is right under the circumstances, he has taken a bold step one that could ultimately cost him power if this crisis continues, but, rather than getting the support he deserves from the Opposition, they continue to make petty political arguments which are neither constructive or credible, surely the Conservative Party has not sunk this low
Ben Broadbent, England
I am not convinced that it was necessary to postpone the May 3 polls, but can understand various reasons why Tony Blair might have made his decision. Having said that, I have no desire to see William Hague "dictating" the date from the comfort of his "bandwagon" and I can't say that I'm especially impressed by Charles Kennedy's attempts to be all things to all people on this issue either.
Delaying the general election is one thing
but delaying the local elections which
were supposed to be held on May 3 is
a very disturbing precedent - it has never
happened in peace time before.
The Conservatives were also worryingly eager
to see such a precedent set, in the same way
they are eager for the army to take over from
civilian agencies in handling the foot-and-mouth situation.
What was wrong with holding the election on May 3 2001? The term of Parliament is five years. Or did the fact that several millions of pounds have already been spent on advertising, and contracts would probably mean losing that money if the campaign fails to go ahead as planned? All that agonising over the date - all that spin about caring.
D Wood, United Kingdom
It is ludicrous that the Prime Minister can choose the date of the general election anyway. We need to adopt five year fixed terms and proportional representation to our so-called democratic system. We also need to have elections on Sundays and introduce electronic methods of voting. We are in the new century after all.
If Blair is "straining every sinew" in handling foot-and-mouth then he had no choice but to delay. What, though, is particularly irritating, and what shows his low level of respect for the British people, is the fact that he seems quite prepared to disclose his plans to foreign political figures such as the likes of Romano Prodi before disclosing them to his own people.
I have now got to the stage where I don't care when they hold the election, just stop going on about it. The current crop of politicians are the most boring priggish, self-righteous bunch I have ever encountered. It does not matter what we vote for, we will get what they think is good for us. The last four years has merely allowed the Tories to come to the same level of New Labour. Vote for whoever you want, you will get the same wolves, just in various shades of sheep's clothing.
For all the Tories bleating and whining, they care not a jot for the future of the countryside and only care about returning to government - where they think they have a right to be! The foot-and-mouth crisis would not have been handled any differently by them, yet they now see it as a winning political issue and are shamelessly exploiting it for all it is worth. Having said all that, they have no other issues that appeal to the British public under the increasingly desperate William Hague.
At long last Tony
Blair has decided to
postpone the coming elections. This is
not before time, the
last thing the farming and countryside
community want to
worry about is any
elections. Where the
general election is
concerned, this need
not be held until
In 1945 the UK held a General Election while at war with the Japanese. Yet this "crisis" stops one. What next, postponement because the economic conditions are not right, or because we just don't want you to have one.
If Tony Blair calls the election on the 7th of June, I shall be on holiday in Europe.
So I will vote by post, why couldn't the farming community use this method on the 5th of May, Its no big deal!
Michael Mallory, England
No, he was definitely wrong to delay any type of election. Now a precedence has been set. If farmers can delay elections, why not other sectors or groups of workers?
Get foot-and-mouth disease under control. Present a recovery plan to the nation and then, and only then go to the country. While farming may be a small portion of GNP the havoc this disease is having only goes to prove that it is fundamental to all of us and cannot be ignored by the rest of the nation when in trouble.
How on earth can an election be feasible when large sections of the electorate are under virtual siege through the foot-and-mouth epidemic?
Candidates cannot campaign in the countryside without increasing the risk of spreading infection. Also, many farmers in clean areas have kept to their farms in an effort to prevent bringing in the disease. Do you seriously think they would want to risk going out just to vote? As I understand it only infected farms will be able to use the postal ballot option.
I don't think this Government is taking the problem seriously enough even now. They will regret their complacency.
I believe, on balance, we should have fixed-term parliaments although I fear that will result in the UK having electioneering programmes similar to those in the US.
I am getting tired of comments from the
likes of Sarah, UK. No-one called for
the miners', shipbuilders', steelworkers'
interests to be put first when their
livelihoods were going down the drain.
Once FMD has been contained,
the Govt should do a Dr Beeching on
No, Blair wasn't right to cancel the polls. We could be in exactly the same situation next month - what then?
Postpone the elections? They had never been announced!
Tony Blair has demonstrated the leadership we always knew he had, but never really had a chance to see. He really does take his job seriously, and he has shown this by helping those who need his help, even if they aren't his natural political allies. This widens the gap between him and the Tories, who now seem immature. It just exposes the fact that they are out only to score minor political points. There is now simply no comparison between a great Prime Minister and a desperate leader of the opposition. Blair wants to unite the country, Hague seems to want only to divide it.
As a member of the Conservative Party I am appalled that William Hague called for a postponement of the General Election. The job of the opposition leader is to be ready at ALL times to present himself as head of an alternative government.
Ralph Snape, UK
At last, Tony Blair is behaving like a Prime Minister. If this crisis had affected the cities we would have had a national emergency declared weeks ago, with no thought of elections. This crisis isn't just damaging farmers and tourism - everybody in the country will pay the price in the long term, so let's work together to beat it and go back to playing politics when it's over.
If Tony Blair is unable to concentrate on more than one issue at a time, then he is unfit to hold the office of Prime Minister. That there is a problem of timing over a general election is also entirely of Blair's making. He didn't have to go to the country until next year. This reinforces my first point.
For a government with a large majority and a year left to run, the only possible reason for calling an election now is that they believe that it will give them the best chance of winning.
With the country in the middle of a major foot-and-mouth outbreak, the stock market crashing, the euro crashing, large companies announcing more and more redundancies and repeated allegations of sleaze against his MPs, they think that they are best placed now to win! How much worse does he expect it to get?
I don't see the point in delaying the elections for a single month. All the reasons for not holding a General Election in May (i.e. focus of MPs, Parliament being dissolved, etc) will still hold true in June. Mr. Blair would like to have his cake and eat it. To appease the masses with a delay, but at the same time not risk his neck by delaying too much. It's obvious from it's length that the delay was called not too aid in the eradication of foot-and-mouth but because Tony wants to be popular.
Michael Bruce, UK
I am surprised that Blair waited until the last possible moment to change the election date. Britain is working through a crisis and all attention needs to be devoted to solving the foot-and-mouth problem. I fail to see the sense in moving the date by just four weeks and would have thought the sensible thing to do would be to move the elections to some unannounced date in the autumn. This outbreak is a serious enough event to warrant undiluted attention to its effective and speedy resolution.
If Mr Blair really put country before party, he'd have ruled out the poll many weeks ago. The fact is that he wanted to keep his options open until he realised that the people wouldn't stomach a May 3 election.
It would have been an interesting campaign if the elections were held on 3 May, as most of the normal voters will would have been saved from the intrusion of the party activists on their daily lives and doorsteps. Hence a more civilised and factual election would have occurred due to the limited resources to get the message across to the public.
Tony Blair has listened to the views of the vast majority of people, from ordinary people to senior churchmen, politicians, farmers, tourist chiefs, and he has acted like a statesman in taking a very tough decision to do what is best for the country.
Yes - the elections should be delayed - but not a cosmetic delay for a few weeks. The PM has been advised the foot-and-mouth outbreak will only peak in June - so how does he think he and his party can run a general election when we are at the worst this outbreak can bring. It is a fudge move that will not really prove that this government is determined to eradicate this disease or win an election in the middle of it.
Get the disease under control - present a recovery plan to the nation and then, and only then go to the country. While farming may be a small portion of GNP the havoc this disease is having only goes to prove that farming is fundamental to all of us and it cannot be ignored by the rest of the nation when in trouble.
The government has diluted democracy enough by using spin and their favoured tabloids to further their cause. It was right to delay the election but if should have been announced properly through Parliament of by a ministerial announcement, with a new date left open. A month is probably insufficient to satisfy the public the foot-and-mouth will be eradicated by then.
I hoped Blair would have gone ahead in May. I have little or no sympathy with farmers/hauliers who said at the petrol strike that they would bring the Govt down.
An election might have given the current leaders the chance to finish off the job they have started after years of pandering to the rich. The sooner the better.
Simon Cameron, UK
Considering less than a third of the population vote in council elections and less than two thirds in general elections, who cares? Suddenly everybody seems concerned about a date. If only people cared enough to go out and vote in the first place.
I think Tony Blair was right to delay the election. Otherwise he would have appeared insincere, heartless and out of touch with the plight of the farmers and the countryside.
I think, on balance, the correct decision has been taken. Foot and mouth epidemic needs to be contained as a priority. Any election campaign needs to address how the future government will tackle evident major issues in food production. Tony Blair has improved his status with this decision
Blair was elected for 5 years. The only reason he wants to call an election now is because he is fairly sure he will get back now but not so sure if he waits till his full term is up. What does he know we don't. We should have a fixed term like in the States then we would all know when the election was to be from the beginning! Blair would have to take his chance next spring!
Ridiculous that the 2% agricultural tail should be wagging the dog
The General Election has not been postponed - it can only be postponed after May 2002! We have a 5 year Parliament and it is only for selfish party reasons that both Conservative and Labour Prime Ministers call an election after 4 years.
There was no chance of a general election on May 3rd. Too party political. Who says the general election will be in June anyway? Blair will gauge opinion again before announcing that date. (Then he will leak it to the Sun, not announce through Parliament). Meanwhile Keith Vaz is taken (diplomatically, but not too seriously) ill, and told to rest (i.e. be out of the limelight and criticism) for eight weeks. Saves an embarrassing sacking, he can rest till his issues 'blow over'. Cynical?, moi?
Chris Burke, Lincolnshire UK
Decision to delay until June reveals the cynical means by which the decision was arrived at by the very fact that it was not simply delayed until the crisis was dealt with.
If the FMD crisis really is so serious, then surely the only option is to extend the life of the present Parliament by four years to provide ample time for the situation to be fully resolved. I'm sure that William Hague, with the national interest so obviously close to his heart, would be prepared to agree to this approach.
Predictable postponement, after all the Governments reaction to situations over the last couple of years have always been a "delayed" one. Too Little to Late Government is no good to man nor beast.
Blair should not be delaying the elections but in the current political climate had no choice. Tourism is suffering far more than farming and will now continue to do so. As for the farmers, they are being handsomely compensated by the government for all of this in a way that miners in the 80s never were. Some perspective please.
There was no right or wrong choice here. Both options have merit and setbacks. I'm sure that won't stop Tony Blair's opposition from trying to capitalise on the choice he made though.
At the end of the day no-one could be assured that government could concentrate on foot-and-mouth during an election. However this still may not be possible if Hague and his diehard supporters continue to use this crisis as a political football. The Tories will probably use this extended time to cause as much trouble as they can, even if this damages the whole of the UK in the process. At the end of the day it was Blair's choice to make and because of his decision I'm still content with the choice I made at the 1997 General Election.
Alex Belardinelli, UK
It maybe a terrible disaster for farmers, but it should not hold the country to ransom. And Blair claims he doesn't take any notice of opinion polls?
About time too! Right now the only thing that matters is trying to reassure desperate farmers by any means possible. If this includes postponing the election, then postponed it should be! Maybe it still would have been possible to continue through with it using the postal voting system, but at this point in time the wishes of the farmers must be put above everything else! This is their livelihoods going down the drain!
A general election isn't due until 2002 anyway. It was only considered in the first place for selfish Labour Party interests and with no regard for what is best for the country.
If the reports are correct and Mr. Blair has postponed the local elections he has decided that the economic interests of farmers are more important than democracy for millions.
If Mr Blair really put country before party, he'd have ruled out the poll many weeks ago. The fact is that he wanted to keep his options open until he realised that the people wouldn't stomach a 3 May election.
The general election doesn't have to be held until next year, so Mr Blair was quite within his rights to decide against it. Of more concern is the cancellation of the council elections. This effectively means that democracy has been suspended as a result of a disease of animals. In the past Britain has supported international sanctions against governments who refuse to hold elections when they become due, so I wonder if Britain can now expect the same treatment from other countries?
If he didn't move it people would complain he was just thinking about winning the election and not the country, now he has people are doing the same. Can people please be a little less cynical?
According to the 10 0'clock news on BBC 1 this news had been learned by the BBC after it had been leaked to "The Sun". An official announcement will be made on Monday. So "The Sun" comes before Parliament or even the BBC these days, never mind the Head of State. We are told that a nation get the government it deserves. What have we done to deserve one with this order of priorities?
Blair knew that he would lose votes if he held the election on 3 May. That is probably why the elections were delayed not because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
I think John is wrong. There is no way Blair would have delayed the election if it were not for F&M. This crisis is having a knock on effect throughout the whole country and is affecting university research and just about everything that you can imagine. F&M has been confirmed a mile up the road here today, why should I and all around be disenfranchised when it hits the farm here? Blair has no choice, the country is in a terrible crisis.
I think Blair should have made a point of cancelling the elections until 2002, when the crisis is more likely to be under control. What difference can he think a month will make?
I broadly approve of the decision. Although it was obviously their original intent, I don't think it would be right for the Government to spend time and effort on electioneering at the expense of our agricultural sector. Having said that, given their current levels of incompetence, I doubt we will be free from foot-and-mouth on the 7th of June either!
No, definitely no. I can clearly see even from a distance the situation is terrible but British citizens have a right to their say under any circumstances.
The rights of any democracy should not be suspended even under the worst circumstances in the name of "social benefit".
I am surprised that Blair waited until the last possible moment to change the election date. Britain is working through a crisis and all attention needs to be devoted to solving the foot and mouth problem. Democracy is not affected nor cancelled, and democratic rights have not been trampled on, by changing the election date, both national and council. It's simply common sense. I fail to see though the sense in moving the date by just four weeks. I would have thought the sensible thing to do would be to move the elections to some unannounced date in the autumn. This outbreak is a serious enough event to warrant undiluted attention to its effective and speedy resolution. It's absurd to pretend otherwise and furthermore it is ridiculous to suggest that the agricultural sector has no right to be affecting 'democracy and the rights of all citizens' This is a national crisis.
31 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Blair delays election until June
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