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Iain Duncan Smith MP, Conservative Defence Spokesman
"We've had an awful lot of delay"
 real 56k

Austin Mitchell MP, Labour
"I think there is nothing to be gained by postponement"
 real 28k

Sunday, 1 April, 2001, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Tories accuse Blair of 'dithering'
Michael Portillo
Michael Portillo keeps up pressure over election date.
The Conservatives are demanding an immediate statement from Prime Minister Tony Blair on his decision to put off a May general election.

Conservative leader William Hague last week called on the government to postpone the election to concentrate on tackling the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Why can't the prime minister give us a statement?

Michael Portillo
But now the Tories have attacked the prime minister for failing to make a formal announcement on the leaked decision to delay the poll.

Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo said: "Why can't the prime minister give us a statement?

"Why does it all have to be done behind the scenes?"

He told BBC News that Mr Blair was giving "the impression of a man who is dithering".

He said: "He's dithered about handling the foot-and-mouth crisis because he's been thinking about the election.

John Reid
Dr Reid: Tony Blair will "put the country first".

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

"But even now he can't come forward straightforwardly and tell us what date the local elections are going to be."

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo joined in the attack.

He said the govenment should not call an election until the foot-and-mouth-crisis was clearly under control - and he suggested this might mean pushing back the date until next year.

'Country first'

But Nothern Ireland Secretary John Reid rejected Tory criticism.

He said: "The country probably has the impression that William Hague would like all elections delayed until we've overcome the crisis in the Tory party - but I'm afraid we haven't got a few years to spare.

Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy: Decision needed soon

But Labour MP Austin Mitchell said the delay was a "mistake".

He said there was "nothing to be gained" by putting off the election.

"It's saying to the world that this country is in such a mess with foot-and-mouth that we can't even go through with our democratic processes - and that really is disastrous," he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said the prime minister would have to make a public decision on the timing of the election by "the beginning of next week".

He raised doubts over an election in June when he told the BBC: "The arguments against May in terms of the scientific nature of this problem are equally the argument against June".

National emergency

Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said: "In the middle of a national emergency, it would have been grossly irresponsible to call an election - and I do hope that no election in fact will be called until this dreadful disease is under control."

Scottish National Party leader John Swinney welcomed the decision: "I think the prime minister has taken a wise step".

The GMB union, which represents 20,000 tourism workers, backed a short delay but said that 7 June was the "point of no return".

Leader John Edmonds said: "A four-week delay will not create any major problems but if we were to be pushed beyond June 7, the message that would send would have serious implications for the tourism sector."

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See also:

01 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Blair delays May election
31 Mar 01 | Scotland
Kennedy calls for election delay
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