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|Election Could Catch Foot and Mouth
- Spreading virus points to poll postponement
THE GENERAL ELECTION could be put back until the autumn following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease on Britain's livestock farms.
Most pundits expected Prime Minister Tony Blair to call an election in either early April or early May, but such is the seriousness of the contagion that many now see October as the more likely poll date. It is taboo in British politics to conduct general elections in the high summer.
With more outbreaks of foot and mouth coming to light daily, the disease is on the verge of being officially classified as an epidemic, a move which agricultural scientists believe would mean hundreds of farms and large swathes of the countryside being put into virtual quarantine for at least six months.
In such circumstances "to have a campaign in the countryside would not in my mind be possible," said farmers' leader Ben Gill.
On the other side of the coin, farmers groups have been the bitterest of opponents to the Blair government. Shifting the election back several months is thought likely to improve the current dire poll rating of the right wing Tory Party, the group which traditionally receives the overwhelming majority of farmer support.