Sick cows, ailing country

Britain: Foot-and-mouth disease postpones election, slows the economy and angers people.

April 06, 2001

AS THE NUMBER of sites infected with foot-and-mouth disease passed 1,000 in the United Kingdom, despite the momentous slaughter of livestock, it took a political toll.

Prime Minister Tony Blair felt compelled by the demands of farmers, clergy and opposition Conservatives to postpone the May 3 local elections to June 7.

The likelihood is that he'll call a national election for that same date.

This concession stopped short of what many demanded -- an indefinite postponement. Their idea is that a campaign would distract from the national priority of ending the virus epidemic that is destroying farm value.

The virus is so easily carried that election activities could spread it. Besides, local and national officials should be concentrating on fighting the disease, not electioneering.

But Mr. Blair resisted the more draconian step to save the tourism and hospitality industries, which face a bleak season if Britain is not "open for business." Mr. Blair says it is, but so much countryside is banned to visitors that he isn't convincing.

Part of England's fabled civility is breaking down. Farmers are angry at the government, taxpayers at farmers.

So far, this does not seem to jeopardize Mr. Blair's Labor Party's re-election. The opposition Conservative Party under William Hague has long since shot itself in both feet, needing another five years to recover.

No alternative to Labor appears electable.

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