Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair Clears Decks for Poll with Foot and Mouth 'Victory'

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Blair Clears Decks for Poll with Foot and Mouth 'Victory'

Article excerpt

Byline: BEN LEAPMAN

FOOT & MOUTH TALLY

1,538 CASES, UP NINE YESTERDAY

98,000 CARCASSES AWAITING DISPOSAL

118,000 ANIMALS AWAITING SLAUGHTER

TONY BLAIR will declare victory over foot-and-mouth disease today in a move which opens the way for a general election next month.

The Prime Minister and his top scientific advisers are staging an event at Number 10 to claim that the worst of the epidemic has passed. They say that by the end of today the backlog of carcasses will have been cleared, and the last pyre in Devon will have been lit.

They are releasing a report which claims that the disease has been brought under control more quickly than during the last serious outbreak in 1967.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown, chief vet Jim Scudamore and chief scientist Professor David King are joining Mr Blair at Downing Street for the announcement.

For the past four days, the daily totals of new outbreaks have been down into single figures - compared with more than 40 a day at the peak of the epidemic.

However, the Conservatives say that the disease could have been brought under control more quickly if the Government had enforced the cull sooner and involved the Army at an earlier stage.

After foot-and-mouth forced Mr Blair to delay the election, originally pencilled in for May, he is now thought likely to call the poll on 7 June - the same day as the rescheduled local elections. The announcement of the election date could come next Tuesday, with the Commons sitting until the end of next week to finish up business.

Two opinion polls yesterday showed Labour on course to improve on its landslide victory of 1997, extending its Commons majority to more than 200.

However, the party's strategists still fear that apathy among core Labour supporters could cost some votes. …

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