The appearance of Brigitte Bardot on the front pages of the nation's newspapers yesterday was the best indication yet that Britain's foot and mouth epidemic is on the wane.

Miss Bardot's intervention on behalf of Porky the Potbellied Pig was a sure sign that everybody can now safely lighten up a little. She was late off the mark with Phoenix the calf but it didn't really matter because Tony Blair had already decided to do the decent thing and order a reprieve.

There are, though, some serious questions to be asked about Phoenix. In the first place, was his story really true? There are apparently some vets ready to say that no new born calf could have survived for five days lying next to his dead mother without sustenance, as Phoenix seemed to have done.

Was he a “plant”? Next, did the prime mininster panic at the thought of the next morning's headlines if Phoenix was culled? “Brutal Blair.” “Have you no pity Tony?” - you know the kind of thing. It is certainly true that the announcement of a partial reduction in the slaughtering policy, which would save Phoenix, was made at an odd hour - around ten o'clock in the evening, just in time to catch the late TV news bulletins and the main morning editions of the newspapers.

My own reading is that the policy had already been decided on, irrespective of Phoenix, for announcement the next day. But the prospect of acres more of pictures of the bereft calf and accusations of No 10*s heartlessness made the prime minisnter decide to move first.

It was a political decision, of course, but he's in the business of politics and if he doesn't keep ahead of the media's game he will pay the price.

Ray Fleming


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