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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Some Labour MP's are worried that a precedent has now been set"
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Home Secretary Jack Straw
"The Prime Minister is someone who does genuinely put country before party"
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Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo
"Why does the Sun newspaper have to be told before the nation?"
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Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs
"My hope is we can have a short delay"
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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK
Blair delays May election
Tony Blair
Blair returned to Downing Street on Sunday afternoon
Prime Minister Tony Blair has abandoned plans for a general election in May - and is likely to go to the country in June.

The prime minister has done what was absolutely correct

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid
He made the decision this weekend after coming under mounting pressure to concentrate on the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The general election had been expected to be held on 3 May - the date set for council elections in some parts of England.

Downing Street has played down reports of a delay but legislation is expected to be rushed through parliament to postpone the local polls.

A formal announcement is expected on Monday.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid backed any move to delay elections.

"The prime minister has done what was absolutely correct. He has directed his attention towards foot-and-mouth disease."

It will be the first time since the Second World War that elections have been postponed in Britain.

'National mood'

Home Secretary Jack Straw insisted that, although there would not be practical problems in holding the local polls, Mr Blair was taking account of the mood in the countryside.

"In normal circumstances, of course, the local elections would go ahead," he said.

"There is no formal announcement which has yet been made about postponing the local elections for a short period but as circumstances change then we have to take account of those changes.

"That is above all what the prime minister has been doing, not in terms of the practicalities of running elections but it's much more to do with sensitivities about the issue in the countryside and taking account of the national mood."

Dead cows lie at a farm close to the village of Lamonby in Cumbria
The slaughter of animals continues
A spokeswoman for Mr Blair insisted that the reports remained speculation, saying the prime minister has been focusing on foot-and-mouth.

"He said he would listen to views on the timing of the local elections, scheduled for 3 May. He will act in the best interests of the country."

Previously, Downing Street had ruled out a delay, saying it would send out a damaging message that "Britain was closed" as a result of foot-and-mouth.

Mr Blair is understood to have made his decision at his country residence, Chequers.


The Conservatives reacted to news of the general election delay by accusing the prime minister of "dithering" over the date.

They suggest the general election could be pushed back to next year.

Shadow chancellor Michael Portillo said: "I am afraid it gives the impression of a man who is dithering.

"He has dithered about handling the foot-and-mouth crisis because he has been thinking about the election.

"Now he has dithered about the election because of the foot-and-mouth crisis."

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy expressed doubts about when the election would now be held.
Michael Portillo
Mr Portillo accused Mr Blair of dithering

He told the BBC: "It does seem to me, judging as a layman looking from the outside in on this one, that the arguments against May in terms of the scientific nature of this problem are equally the argument against June."

Mr Blair may have been finally swayed by a MORI poll for the Sunday Telegraph, carried out in the last two days, which suggests 63% of voters were against a poll on 3 May.

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See also:

01 Apr 01 | UK
Outbreak 'under control'
01 Apr 01 | UK
Animal cull intensifies
01 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Tories accuse Blair of 'dithering'
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