BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Pressure mounts to name the election date

Fulfilling its constitutional role of announcing key national

events, The Sun this week named 3 May as Election Day.



This ends a spell of sustained spinning from all sides, despite the

Government's reluctance to alter plans in the face of the spreading

foot-and-mouth outbreak.



Sources say Labour strategists had no intention of shifting the

election. To do so would have involved moving local authority polls

planned for the same day. Any postponement would have to be for several

months since experts agree that even when foot-and-mouth is under

control, its legacy will be long lasting.



Opinions differ on what motivated the Government to suggest that the

date could move. One Millbank source said the plan has always remained 3

May but 'a delicate approach was needed to avoid communicating

arrogance'.



One story last week said Gordon Brown thought the poll date was 'on a

knife edge'. 'He thought no such thing,' a source retorted. 'He wanted

to reinforce the view that he was prudent, but never planned to abandon

3 May.'



Brown's commitment to this date is driven by advice from Treasury

officials that a downturn in the economy is imminent, on the back of US

wobbles and the tech slump. Brown has seen economic indicators - such as

advanced bookings for business class flights to the US and Asia - and

concluded that if the economy is to slip up this summer, it is better to

be at the start of a parliament than the end of one.



Concealing such concerns behind dramatic phrases such as 'knife edge' is

a PR masterstroke. 'The impulse to get the election over was economic.

The party has written off 150 rural seats, so foot-and-mouth played only

a small role in calculations,' an insider said.



The Tories are in an odd position, since any chance of election success

can only be enhanced by a delay. But if they call for a delay they

appear scared. And, since a postponement would only happen if there was

total disaster in rural areas, their hopes are allied with the prospect

of rural apocalypse. They have instead called for legislation to be

passed to enable councils to delay their election if they see fit.

Therefore, they call for and do not call for a delay simultaneously.



Liberal Democrat comms chief David Walter expects the date to be 3

May.



'Being seen not to overreact was crucial,' he says, 'since it would

cause even more damage to the countryside if the world was told our

rural areas were closed.'



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