At the beginning of the General Election campaign, Ronnie Cohen looks at the current stance of the main political parties and the position taken in the past by some of their MPs.
On 18 April, Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election that will take place on 8 June 2017. This was approved by Parliament on the following day by a huge majority of 522 to 13 votes. Here, it is worth looking at the positions on metrication of the main national parties and politicians and the prospects for further progress.
The UK Independence Party, better known as UKIP, believes that traders should be allowed to sell their wares in metric and/or imperial units and thinks that the current situation is illiberal and unfair. They say that “traders should be free to label their produce in whatever units of measurement they and/or their customers see fit.” You can read their full policy statement on this issue at https://metricviews.org.uk/2013/05/a-statement-from-ukip/.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) has 56 MPs in the House of Commons and is the governing party in the Scottish Parliament. I could not find any information on where the SNP, their First Minister or any of their MPs stand on metrication.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonell signed Early Day Motion (EDM) 205 against compulsory metrication in 2001 (source: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2000-01/205). This EDM stated:
“That this House recognises the advantages of using common units of measurement in scientific, technological and professional activities, but believes that no such considerations apply to the sale and purchase of loose goods; does not believe the use of measures familiar to both traders and customers constitutes an intention to confuse the consumer; and believes that inappropriate and heavy-handed attempts to impose metrication by compulsion are counter productive.”
The EDM supported the failed voluntary approach to metrication that has been tried since 1895 and got us into the measurement mess in the first place.
The Lib Dems have just 9 MPs. One of their current MPs is Nick Clegg, who was the Deputy Prime Minister in the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government between 2010 and 2015. During that time, there was no discernible progress on metrication. While I could not find much information about their MPs’ position on metrication, I noticed that 16 out of the 28 MPs who signed EDM 205 were Lib Dems, a proportion of signatories far greater than their share of MPs in the House of Commons at the time. These signatories included Norman Baker, Alan Beith, Vincent Cable, Edward Davey and Simon Hughes. Some of them held key ministerial posts in the coalition government.
The Conservative Party has, among its ranks, large numbers of eurosceptic MPs who support Brexit. Most of them tend to be anti-metric. Andrea Leadsom, a Brexiteer and former leadership candidate for the Conservative Party, suggested that traders could be allowed to use pounds and ounces after the UK leaves the EU. Philip Hammond, the current Chancellor, blocked the proposal to make metric units mandatory on signs showing height and width restrictions when he was transport secretary. However, his successor, Patrick McLoughlin, approved the change. Apart from this, there has been little discernible progress on metrication since the Conservatives returned to power in 2010. Several prominent Brexiteers now hold key ministerial posts. They include Boris Johnson, foreign secretary, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade. None of them is known to support UKMA’s cause.
Given the preoccupation with Brexit among the political establishment and the continuing affection for the Imperial system among numerous key political figures and many of the popular national newspapers, there may be little desire to complete the metric changeover in the UK that began over a century ago, whatever the outcome of the forthcoming election. However, the world has moved on since then and it is possible that the Prime Minister’s wish to see a “global Britain” will mean that the option of continuing with the current muddle is no longer viable.