Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Timing of an Election

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Timing of an Election

Article excerpt

THE ARGUMENTS FOR and against holding a General Election in May are finely balanced. A fortnight ago, we suggested that if the foot-and-mouth outbreak had not peaked by the end of March, it would seem deeply distasteful to many people for political campaigning to go ahead. Today, that perception has not changed. The countryside is plunged into deep shock, almost mourning.

Some economists are warning that the cost to Britain of foot-and-mouth, above all through lost tourism, could inflict more pain upon the nation's prosperity than collateral damage from an American recession. This is an unhappy time for anybody of sensitivity living in Britain, and arguments about blame for foot-and-mouth are generating increasing bitterness. Yet should the countryside tragedy halt the election? We should not ask that question of either Mr Tony Blair or Mr William Hague, who have both convinced themselves that their views of the national interest coincide with their own self-interest. Mr Blair wants to go to the country quickly, before clouds from across the Atlantic shroud the economic sunshine. Mr Hague, urging delay, wants to cling to his job for a little longer. But there is a real case for going ahead, which Peter Kellner discusses on this page. Past elections have been held in the shade of far worse crises. To halt our political process will give the worst possible signal to the rest of the world, at a time when Britain is striving to show that normality prevails across much of the country. Above all, the body politic has been in general election mode for weeks. Government will now be stuck in poll orbit until voting has taken place, whether that proves to be in six weeks, or six months. If Mr Blair goes in May as he has always wanted, his decision will be seen as tasteless by a significant number of people.

The Prime Minister will no doubt hope to be seen steering the nation coolly through the foot-and-mouth crisis.

In reality, he and his colleagues are more likely to be seen drifting helplessly amid a worsening rural disaster. The crisis will encourage many already apathetic voters to stay away from the polls. But on balance, we accept Peter Kellner's argument. …

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