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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Many of his advisors will tell Blair to go for a May election"
 real 56k

Archbishop of York, David Hope
"The election would be a distraction from the foot-and-mouth crisis"
 real 28k

Bishop of Carlisle Graham Dow
"There is huge frustration that things are not being done quickly"
 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

The Guardian's political editor Michael White
"There is no gain in delay"
 real 56k

Friday, 30 March, 2001, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Bishops back election delay
Farmer in Blazonry, Cumbria
The foot-and-mouth crisis could delay election
Some of the Church of England's most senior bishops are urging the prime minister not to hold a general election while the foot-and-mouth epidemic rages.

The Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend David Hope, and the Bishops of Carlisle and Hereford have joined farmers and the Conservatives in backing the postponement of the widely expected 3 May vote.

Visiting stricken farmers in Scotland on Friday, Tony Blair insisted he had "nothing more to say" on the election date.

But his spokesman in London told journalists the prime minister would "do the right thing" when considering the election timing.

Mr Blair is expected to decide on the date at Chequers, his country retreat, this weekend.

In the last 10 days or so I have picked up on general feeling of despair and bewilderment.

Archbishop David Hope

Dr Hope told reporters at Bishopthorpe Palace in York: "In the last 10 days or so I have picked up on general feeling of despair bewilderment.

"People in rural communities and in urban areas seem to be too preoccupied with getting on top of this crisis to be able to consider serious matters surrounding an election, like health and education.

"It seems to me now is not the most opportune time for a general election to be called."

'Not meddling'

Dr Hope dismissed accusations that the church was meddling in politics.

He was only "giving a voice" to what many people were telling the clergy.

The Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend David Hope
The Archbishop of York's has a mainly rural diocese
The archbishop is second only to Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey in seniority in the Church of England - the two men are known to be close friends.

Dr Carey is aware of his colleagues' comments and has expressed his own concern, declaring that "serious attention needs to be paid to the fact that there is restricted movement in large parts of the country".

At the same time the Bishops of Durham and Oxford have urged that the poll goes ahead.

US television plea

As the crisis continues to cause a slump in UK tourism, Mr Blair has appeared on US television in an effort to persuade Americans that Britain is still "open for business".

In an interview with NBC's News of America, Mr Blair said: "Any tourist attraction, virtually, that anyone in the United States will have heard of and wants to come and see, is open.

"Britain is open for business, you can go to any town, city and village that you want."

Council poll gain

Mr Blair is likely to mull over surprisingly positive results of three council by-elections on Thursday when making his decision.

Labour's candidate chalked up a landslide 23.9% swing to take a seat in Preston Borough, Lancashire.

Tory leader William Hague said the prime minister "would be putting party before country" if he called the election in May.

He said that if he was prime minister he "would be concentrating on fighting this disease and not the election".

Dead cows lie at a farm close to the village of Lamonby in Cumbria
The slaughter of animals continues
Downing Street insisted Mr Blair will spend the weekend at Chequers focusing totally on tackling the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

It indicated plans to hold the council elections on 3 May were still on track.

Although the close of nominations for those elections on Monday was an important staging post, a decision on postponing them could be taken "almost until polling day".

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister was aware of the different opinions about a general election.

He added: "He will listen carefully to the representations being made and at some point he will come to a judgement about the local elections and he will do so in good order...

"In the end he will do what he believes is right for the country."

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See also:

30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
D-Day for Blair
30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Poll advice from all sides
29 Mar 01 | Europe
Mass cull in Netherlands
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Wallace tells Blair to 'come clean'
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