- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Like his recently retired American counterpart, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is spending the final weeks of his current term trying to guess how his legacy should best be preserved. No, hes not trying to solve a crisis in the Middle East or in Northern Ireland. Instead, Mr. Blair has allowed himself to be carried along by the national hysteria over foot and mouth disease, a virus which is the equivalent of cows or sheep having a bad case of the flu. In a country where the prime minister can call an election on his own whim (as long as it is within five years of the last one), having what has been deemed a national disaster just prior to voting day can be helpful. That is, if Mr. Blair can paint himself the hero in this "emergency."

If he had wanted to go ahead with elections as planned May 3, he would have had to call them this week. Instead, he postponed them Monday until June 7. This was a rather unexpected move as his Labour Party had timed its budget and other significant announcements around the May date.

Unfortunately, Mr. Blair and his agriculture department took their time in acting to stop the disease. So Mr. Blair and most Cabinet ministers had been pushing for getting the problem out of the way fast (i.e., calling for the killing of almost a million cows, pigs and sheep), in time for the May vote. Then Mr. Blair came under fire from some in the farming community for this method, as they suspected he was trying to rush the election without having fully addressed how to handle the disease. "This decision to kill healthy animals was made on political grounds," spokesman Andrew Spence of the lobby group Farmers for Action told Agence France-Presse.

Instead of having the cattle, whose disease does nothing to humans and is not lethal to sheep and cows, killed en masse, critics suggest he could have a more limited number killed and the rest immunized. But that would be admitting that Britain has a problem. It could lose its disease-free status, and it would take a few extra weeks of precious time. It would mean farmers would face a ban on exports. As it is now, Mr. Blair has called out the army to build pyres to burn the carcasses and dig ditches to bury them in, the Financial Times reported.

Whether those piles of carcasses leave Mr. Blair´s legacy rotting, or make him a national hero, will depend on whether he uses the intervening time campaigning to put the needs of others the farmers, his countrymen living next to the mass graves and the cows before politics.

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