Party before country

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Tuesday's London Daily Telegraph:

In the North in particular, country people now feel they are dealing, not with an ordinary disease, but with an almost biblical plague. ...

The latest outbreak challenges many epidemiological assumptions about foot and mouth. It is now perfectly possible that the horror of what is happening in Devon and Cumbria will spread to new shires. The current policy of selective quarantine and culling has not succeeded in containing the epidemic. There can no longer be any doubt that foot and mouth is out of control. Only now, it seems, are ministers beginning to understand the magnitude of the crisis. ...

There are two explanations for the extraordinary lethargy from which Labor is trying to shake itself free. First, ministers have little interest in the countryside. ... Second, and far more seriously, ministers were initially determined to play down the disease because they did not want to jeopardize an early general election. ...

For weeks, Labor refused to recognize the scale of the problem, dismissing media reports as some kind of Tory plot to delay the poll. At every stage, its instinct has been to avoid measures that might reflect a sense of crisis. Even if the election is now delayed, the damage to Labor's image has been done: At a moment of national emergency, ministers put party before country.

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