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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"The Prime Minister wants to give the impression he is focussed on the crisis and nothing else"
 real 56k

UK opposition leader, William Hague
"I wouldn't call an election at this point, and to do that would be to put party before country"
 real 28k

Friday, 30 March, 2001, 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK
Bishops call for May election delay
The Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend David Hope
The Archbishop's Dioceses includes countryside
Several senior Bishops in the Church of England have joined Tory leader William Hague in urging the prime minister not to hold a general election this spring while the foot-and-mouth outbreak rages.

The Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend David Hope, said: "There is clearly a very strong feeling in the farming community that there should not be an election at the moment."

He is the second most senior figure in the Church of England and is a close friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tory leader William Hague
Hague: Blair should not put party before country
Dr George Carey is aware of his comments and expressed his own concern on Thursday night, declaring that "serious attention needs to be paid to the fact that there is restricted movement in large parts of the country".

The Archbishop of York has seen at first hand much of the effects of the crisis as his Dioceses includes a large chunk of countryside.

He is said to be moved by the "desperation, despair and hopelessness", he has encountered.

His spokesman said that there was "no way he could see vans driving around the countryside urging people to vote".

Fighting

Mr Hague has also urged Mr Blair to delay calling a general election this spring.

He said if he called the widely expected 3 May poll he "would be putting party before country".

On a visit to the affected village of Hawes in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire, on Thursday he said that if he was prime minister he "would be concentrating on fighting this disease and not the election".

Dead sheep awaiting burial
Up to half a million sheep are still being buried
But Commons leader Margaret Beckett has hinted the local elections will go ahead on 3 May - increasing the chances that Mr Blair will ignore Conservative demands and call a general election for the same day.

Until now Mr Hague has confined himself to urging the government to bring in legislation enabling it to delay the county council elections.

Many Labour MPs have urged Mr Blair to stick to 3 May and their case has been boosted by a poll in Thursday's Times suggesting the party has 50% support, 19 points ahead of the Conservatives.

Despite Mrs Beckett's comments to the House, a possible postponement to 7 June is being talked about at Westminster.

'Negative signal'

The timing will depend on whether Mr Blair considers enough has been done to control the outbreak.

He is expected to make his final decision over the weekend at Chequers.

Mrs Beckett told the Commons that postponing the county elections would give out a "very negative signal" - one the tourist industry fears will drive away even more foreign visitors.


The prime minister is focussing on foot and mouth almost to the exclusion of everything else

No 10 spokesman
Provided rural communities took sensible precautions, there was no reason why normal life should not continue, said Mrs Beckett.

"Certainly it has been the government's view for some time that to suspend the county council elections would give a very strong and a very negative signal."

Shadow Commons leader Angela Browning asked what help county council candidates who were farmers would receive.

She said three candidates in her Tiverton and Honiton constituency were "restricted now to their farms".

"They will clearly want to contact the electorate by phone," said Mrs Browning, arguing that this would incur election expenses.

The prime minister's official spokesman said on Thursday: "The prime minister is focussing on foot and mouth almost to the exclusion of everything else.

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