The makeup of the new coalition government and its policy programme are now broadly clear. How will it affect the prospects for progress on completing metrication?
Firstly, the Prime Minister himself – David Cameron. MetricViews is not aware of any public statement he has made on the subject. Certainly, he has given no indication that he is personally committed to resolving the “very British mess”. Equally, he has not associated himself with the wilder actions or comments made by some of his party MPs. When he was responsible for the Conservative manifesto in 2005, he did not include an earlier proposal from a party think-tank that would have legalised imperial weighing.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is also not known to have expressed a view on completing metrication. However, his former rival for the Liberal Democrat leadership, Chris Huhne, is a longstanding supporter of metrication. Unfortunately, his portfolio – Energy and Climate Change – affords little opportunity for progress on metrication, but we may hope that he may speak up for the cause in Cabinet if the opportunity arises.
Committed opponents in the new Cabinet include the former Conservative leader, William Hague, now Foreign Secretary, who once wrote an article in the News of the World denouncing UKMA!
The key post of Transport Secretary (responsible of course for road signs and speed limits) has gone to Philip Hammond (Conservative). Nothing is known about his views on metrication. He will no doubt have difficulty in defending his departmental budget in the forthcoming spending review.
The other key post that could have real influence on the progress or otherwise of metrication is that of Business Secretary, and this post has gone to the Liberal Democrats’ former Treasury spokesperson, Vince Cable. Like Chris Huhne (see above) he abstained in 2001 on a motion to revoke the W&M (Metrication Amendments) Regs 2001 (SI 2001, No 85). His background is the social democratic rather than the civil libertarian wing of the LibDems. However, as it is thought that he has big disagreements with the new Chancellor (George Osborne) on economic policy and banking reform, he may not find time to champion metrication even if that were his inclination.
So, with no known commitment at the top, and divided sympathies (at best) within the new Cabinet, I don’t think we should hold our breath in the expectation of progress during the lifetime of the new Parliament. We shall see.