May Day holiday set to be reprieved: CBI opposition leads Government to rethink over switch to October

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The Independent Online
PLANS to scrap the May Day bank holiday may be quietly dropped following strong pleas for its reprieve from the Confederation of British Industry, the main employers' organisation.

The U-turn is expected to come in two stages, with an announcement soon that bank holidays for 1995 will remain unchanged. Thereafter, according to a government source, the proposal is likely to be allowed to 'wither away'.

Pressure on David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment, to make an early announcement concerning 1995 has come from diary manufacturers. They are becoming edgy because production of 1995 diaries is about to begin.

Mr Hunt is far from convinced that the case for scrapping May Day has merit. He has received strong representations from CBI members that the introduction of an autumn holiday instead would severely disrupt pre-Christmas production schedules.

Support for change from the tourist industry has not been overwhelming either, with many resorts saying there would be fewer visitors during a holiday in October.

The Government has been criticised for wanting to abolish the May Day holiday for ideological reasons.

Gillian Shephard, the former Secretary of State for Employment, was determined to do away with the 'socialist' bank holiday introduced by the last Labour government in the mid-Seventies and her proposal to inaugurate a holiday on or around 15 October received strong Cabinet backing.

After an announcement by Mrs Shephard in May that 1994 would see the last May Day bank holiday, however, the plan has gone steadily downhill.

Mrs Shephard was forced to bow to Foreign Office objections to calling the new holiday Trafalgar Day, while representations being made to Mr Hunt showed an increasing shift in opinion away from the idea.

Mr Hunt has been canvassing right-wing Cabinet colleagues to get their agreement to the decision being reversed and still acknowledges there may be political and ideological objections.

But a source said: 'The idea is seriously on the back burner.' It would only be 'pulled out of the corner' if a sufficient head of steam built up, he said.

While the May Day holiday celebrates the Labour movement, it is also a high point for the Morris Dancers of England, whose Campaign for the Preservation of May Day points out that May Day, maypoles, and merry England were around long before socialism.

The campaign, which includes a rally in Trafalgar Square on Saturday week, has attacked the Government for renouncing its own principles of conserving customs and heritage for reasons of political dogma.