Blair postpones local elections due to FMD crisis


LONDON, AP

Prime Minister Tony Blair postponed local elections in Britain Monday because of the foot-and-mouth epidemic, a signal that national elections have also been put off until June.

Blair, who had been expected to call national elections on May 3, made no comment on the date for a national election. But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said Monday that he had wanted a May national election, and had lost the argument.

With more than 900 cases confirmed since the outbreak was detected on Feb. 20, Britain is struggling to control the epidemic. Blair came under strong pressure from farmers, Church of England bishops and the opposition Conservative party to put off a national election.

“Our task … now is to complete the putting in place of the short-, medium- and long-term strategies to insure the eventual eradication of the disease. Whilst this is going on, I believe it would not be appropriate to hold these elections on the 3rd of May,” Blair said outside his office at No. 10 Downing St.

“But equally, we cannot, should not and will not suspended the democratic process.”

Prescott, in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio, said he “was rather an advocate for May but I knew it was a very difficult decision.” Many Labor party lawmakers, eager to capitalized on their strong poll ratings, had been pressing for a May election.

Conservative Party leader William Hague said Blair should not make a firm decision for a June 7 vote.

“We just think it would not be possible or wise to set a precise date at this point when they don’t know how the crisis will continue and when it will be resolved,” said Hague.

The prime minister faced another important decision Monday on whether to go ahead with vaccination of dairy cattle to help contain foot-and-mouth disease in two hard-hit regions. But there were hints that this issue might be put off.