ALL praise to Darlington's MP and Health Secretary Mr Alan Milburn who, according to one Sunday newspaper at least, was the only member of the Cabinet who thought the general election should be delayed. Every other member thought Mr Blair should stick to May 3, despite the overwhelming mood of the nation.

There are a number of interpretations to be placed on Mr Milburn's decision. The first is that he is the ultimate Blair loyalist, who sensed the way his leader was leaning and leaned with him. The second is that Mr Milburn's authority within the government is of such standing these days that he felt confident enough to back his own judgment against all his Cabinet colleagues about what was the right thing to do.

There's no doubt what the rest of the country, the Labour Party excepted, thought. Perhaps Mr Milburn and his leader have a surer feel of the country's mood than the rest of their Cabinet colleagues.

Reluctant tourists

As one of our correspondents points out, there is a contradiction about the absence of visitors to our most beautiful countryside.

It has long been said that the vast majority of visitors to our national parks are so attached to their motor cars that they never stray more than 50 yards from them during a visit.

If that is the case, why is that the non-walking visitors attractions and businesses in the national parks are so keen to lure back are staying away?

Perhaps their reluctance is more to do with an understandable wish not to spend their leisure time in a crisis area. Whatever business people might say, the atmosphere in places like Wensleydale is grim and it will remain so until the foot-and-mouth crisis is at least improving.

Regardless of what precautions are taken, large numbers of vehicles coming into an affected area does carry an associated risk. Surely, at this stage of the outbreak, it is better to devote all energies to the prevention of further infection rather than the attraction of reluctant tourists.

Vacant veggies

AMONG the more bizarre anecdotes to emerge from the foot-and-mouth crisis is the tale of two walkers, challenged by the farmer whose land they were crossing.

"It's all right," they said. "We're vegetarians."

Laugh if you like, but the truth is that such a level of ignorance about the nature of the epidemic is frightening. It underlines how little some urban visitors bother to find out about the countryside they regard simply as a recreational amenity they have a "right" to enjoy.