Monday, 20 September 2021

What are they diverting attention from?


It was a little over 50 years ago that the UK switched from pounds, shillings and pence to the new decimal currency. I have a vivid memory of the time shortly before the change when my grandmother and her sister were sitting in front of the fire bemoaning the fact. “Why do they have to do this now?,” said one, “Why couldn’t they wait until all we oldies had died out?”. I suspect that many of that generation, if they were still with us today, would happily vote for the return of what was, to them, the familiar money of the time – there is something in all of us which finds comfort in the familiar. And there’s never a ‘right’ time for everyone for making such a change.

Those of my generation were taught measurements primarily in imperial measures. Although metric units were also introduced in schools alongside imperial measures in the 1960s, my A levels in Physics and Maths in 1970 still used mostly imperial measurements. One random result of that education is that I know that acceleration due to gravity is 32ft/s2 but would need to look up the metric equivalent. It’s easy to see how, for many older people, a return to feet and inches, or pounds and ounces, might be attractive. It’s ‘only’ since 1974 that metric units became the prime system taught in schools, bringing the UK into line with most of the rest of the world. That word ‘only’ is doing a lot of work, though. What it means in practice is that around 70% of the population have been taught only, or primarily, metric measurements, and that those feeling some sort of nostalgia for what went before are likely to be over 60 years old.

By sheer coincidence (or maybe not!) that is exactly the demographic most likely to vote Conservative (and of course to support Brexit). And that is enough in itself to explain the otherwise perverse decision taken last week by Boris Johnson to allow traders and others to use solely imperial measurements. I don’t doubt that the very word ‘imperial’ also has its attractions to them, along with the symbolic rejection of a foreign, European, way of measuring things. They should beware, however, of following simple demographics. Whilst it’s true that older people are more likely to vote Conservative, it doesn’t follow that people somehow turn Tory as they age. As each cohort ages, what they feel nostalgia for is likely to be what was prevalent when they were young. There is a danger that they are hitching their populist bandwagon to what is, by definition, a short-lived electoral cohort.

In more practical terms, why on earth would any manufacturer or trader want to sell his or her wares solely in imperial units when they can already use both if they wish? Certainly, it makes no sense at all for anyone expecting to export, especially to Europe. And with 70% of their customer base likely to be more familiar with metric than imperial measures, selling in units with which those customers are unfamiliar doesn’t look like a good business decision even for those selling only into the domestic market. Maybe a few older market traders whose customer base is made up largely of people of a similar age might want to take advantage of their new ‘freedom’, but they, too, are traders not likely to be in business for much longer, for the same demographic reasons.

It is, ultimately, little more than a gimmick, a stunt, aimed at appealing to nostalgia and that sense of exceptionalism which characterises English nationalists. Like blue passports, it’s a headline-grabbing diversion from reality. We should pay more attention to those things from which they are trying to divert our attention with such pointless gimmicks.


Anonymous said...

Trying to turn some attention from the cut in Universal Credits and the number of hours extra work required to make up for the £20?

Gwyn Jones said...

Try asking those in favour of the old systems to divide £3 17s 10d by 4 in their heads.
Gwyn Jones

Arthur Owen,Caerdydd said...

I voted to remain,although no fan of the EU.But I do dislike 'the atheistic meter'.

Gav said...

Altogether too much rubbish going on right now for it to be a diversion. Even they must realise it's a bit more pathetic than your average dead cat, and they're pathetic enough.

Although I do confess to a weakness for the old weights and measures. There was a time long ago when I knew more than anyone could possibly want to know about the differences between pounds, poundals and pounds weight - and all the merry arguments we used to have in the pub about exactly how big a perch (as in allotment size) was - and proper drop-outs from the 25 instead of this modern 22 nonsense - and when our gallon was so much bigger and better than the puny US gallon. Sigh. If only they could restore my youth, I might even vote for them.

Just kidding. Looks more like a culture wars, "owning the libs", kind of thing, and the beggars ain't owning me.

dafis said...

Like learning 2 languages instead of one, or 3 instead of 2, I see a fluency in both metric and imperial as a building block for better understanding of the space we live in and enhancing a capacity for speed of thought. Granted many people are so thick that they cover their inability to work in metric as having a "preference for imperial" but if and when we return to imperial these will be the same dimwits who will struggle with multiples of 8,12,14, 16 and so on. It's all about pandering to thickos whereas "levelling up" should require all these dopey souls to brush up on both codes.

Not too hard for all those people that make up the "greatest nation on earth" with all that is biggest, best and fastest is it ?