Tony Blair last night set himself a ten-day deadline to call a May 3 General Election.

Mr Blair revealed his personal timetable when he was caught on camera chatting to EU Commission President Romano Prodi in Stockholm at the start of a two-day summit.

Mr Prodi asked how long the Prime Minister had before deciding whether to go the country on May 3. Unaware that his conversation was being recorded, Mr Blair replied candidly: "Ten days."

A survey carried out by The Northern Echo in Mr Blair's Sedgefield constituency this week showed more than half the voters were against a May 3 election with no end in sight to the foot-and-mouth crisis.

There have also been calls for local elections, due on the same day, to be postponed.

Last night, Tory chairman Michael Ancram urged Mr Blair to "listen to the voice of the British people".

He said: "It's clear from your poll that the people of Sedgefield are concerned. I think that would probably be reflected round the country.

"We have said that we are ready to fight an election whenever it is called, but we can't see how you can call an election when there's a crisis which is out of control."

But he also said that the situation could change, adding: "In ten days time, none of us know what that will be."

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson jumped to the Government's defence last night.

The Hartlepool MP said: "I know Mr Blair well enough to know that he would do what is in the interests of the country, not the Labour party. There's no practical or logical reason why the local government elections shouldn't go ahead on May 3.

"On the other hand, a section of public opinion and the Conservative party want the local government elections to be postponed. You can't suspend democracy indefinitely.

"So the Prime Minister has to weigh in the balance what would be the most appropriate course of action to take."

The North-East branch of the National Farmers' Union said: "We can't tell the Government not to hold the election, but we can say there'll be a lot of dissatisfaction."