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Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 00:04 GMT 01:04 UK
May poll 'too cynical'
Tony Blair with army personnel in Scotland
Tony Blair has taken charge of foot-and-mouth fight
BBC Political Editor Andrew Marr explains the background to Mr Blair's decision

Tony Blair has finally decided to delay the long-predicted 3 May election for a month after an intense argument inside Downing Street.

The prime minister believes that, though a May election would be perfectly practical, it would confirm the feeling among some in the countryside that New Labour was uninterested in the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Andrew Marr
Andrew Marr says the decision will annoy party officials
He has been under pressure to delay for a week, with calls from William Hague, the Conservative leader, Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and farmers' leaders.

At least as important to Mr Blair has been his personal involvement in the crisis.

He has been doggedly involved in it for a week and though some advisers think the government has finally got the measure of foot-and-mouth, it would have been hard to convince voters that the virus was under control so swiftly.

In the end, it simply looked too cynical to take personal charge one weekend, then call a general election seven or eight days later.

Confirmation on Monday

Mr Blair will probably confirm his decision publicly on Monday, in a statement that is currently expected to refer only to a delay in the local elections - though that will be assumed to mean the general election too.

The golden opportunity for the Conservatives, still well behind in the opinion polls, would be a further delay until the autumn, or even later.

That is entirely ruled out by government sources.


In the end, it simply looked too cynical to take personal charge (of foot-and-mouth) one weekend, then call a general election seven or eight days late

Though the argument has been moving clearly towards June since the middle of the week, the largest straw in the wind came only on Saturday morning, with a leak to The Sun newspaper that a delay was certain.

One minor obstacle to delay had been a previous leak to The Sun, whose support is much prized by Mr Blair, that the election would be on May 3.

The prime minister had no wish to embarrass one of his main media cheer-leaders, so the change of heart was leaked to it first, garnering a supportive editorial response.

The only people who will be very annoyed by the delay are the party officials and tacticians who had been planning for 3 May almost since Labour was elected in 1997.

A lot of holidays which had been paid for in advance are now forfeit.


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See also:

31 Mar 01 | UK Politics
31 Mar 01 | Scotland
30 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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