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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"It is Tony Blair's call"
 real 56k

Bob Worcester of Mori
"The British public react to short term news"
 real 56k

Parliamentary Labour Party chairman Clive Soley
"What I would like to see is a bit more balance in this debate"
 real 56k

The Sun's political editor, Trevor Kavanagh
"May the third seems a perfectly good date"
 real 28k

Monday, 26 March, 2001, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Hold election nerve, Blair urged
Wrynose Pass in Cumbria
The epidemic hit a farm in the heart of the Lake District
A senior Labour backbencher has urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to go ahead with the general election on 3 May despite the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Clive Soley, who chairs the Parliamentary Labour Party, said that a significant majority of backbench Labour MPs favoured an early poll and he indicated he believed that Mr Blair too would ultimately still favour a May poll.


How can you get a grip on a national crisis if you are in the middle of fighting an election?

Michael Ancram
He told BBC News that postponing the election would send a signal to the world that Britain was closed for business.

"The wider interest of the country is that we should not make our tourist industry suffer, we should not send out a very clear signal to the rest of the world that Britain is closed down, because it isn't and it won't be, and we have to have some degree of normal life continuing."

And Mr Soley told The Times that at least 70% of MPs were in favour of going ahead earlier, compared with just 10% who were keen for a delay.

He said: "The whole feeling was that calling off elections - and remember the local elections term is set - would be a very serious thing to do. It is in the interests of our political opponents to drag it out."

Dead cows and sheep
Aerial pictures show row upon row of dead cows and sheep
But Dave Drew MP who is vice chairman of Labour's rural group of members, said he would prefer the elections to be put off.

"If it is called, it is called and we will get on with it but I take the view that it is going to be very difficult to campaign," he said.

He acknowledged that if the election was called in June the situation with foot-and-mouth might be no better.

"That is the government's dilemma. Do you keep postponing and postponing?" he said.

Mr Drew said that rural MPs might be appeased if postal votes were sent out automatically.

The renewed debate over the timing of the election comes as the first mass burial of sheep slaughtered because of the crisis was due to begin at a disused airfield near Carlisle.

Army

The Army has been brought in to help clear the huge backlog of infected animals lying on farms in Cumbria.

One of the reasons Mr Blair may think twice about going to the polls on 3 May is the fear that Labour faces a backlash from voters.

The Conservatives are urging the government to delay the election, saying it is not in the interests of the country.

The Tory Party chairman, Michael Ancram, said: "How can you get a grip on a national crisis if you are in the middle of fighting an election? The two don't go together."

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See also:

25 Mar 01 | Scotland
Union backs cull escalation
25 Mar 01 | Europe
Dutch confirm more foot-and-mouth
26 Mar 01 | UK
Mass burial site prepared
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