Queen’s Jubilee celebrations to include return of imperial units?

Over the weekend, various news items announced (again) that it was the Government’s intention for us to return to the use of imperial units.

The number of times that this move has been announced is now probably outnumbered only by the number of times that the Government has threatened to breach the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement. Announcing the return of “traditional” measurement units is in danger of becoming a tradition itself.

This time, however, the announcement was worded in such a way as to imply that the return of imperial units would form part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. It remains unclear at this stage whether Her Majesty has sanctioned this announcement, which seems unlikely, or whether she was even consulted about the link to her Platinum Jubilee.

It is clear of course that there can be no realistic possibility of abondoning metric units where they have already been adopted, and that the need to complete the metrication process remains, especially regarding road signs. This does however leave open the possibility of the Government introducing legislation to allow the return of a dual-unit mess in the retail trade, where market traders might be permitted to price goods in different units from supermarkets – given a choice, supermarkets are unlikely to want to incur the costs of switching back to imperial units, or dual units.

To some, giving traders the ability to choose units might seem to be an increase in freedom. But it is important to note that in such circumstances it is always the seller that gets to choose, and never the customer.

Having a single system of measurement for all trade purposes is “Consumer Protection 1.01”. In the modern world, the universal use of the metric system is the only way that this can be achieved. This principle has been with us since at least 1215, when Magna Carta stated,

“Let there be one measure for wine throughout our kingdom, and one measure for ale, and one measure for corn, namely “the London quarter”; and one width for cloths whether dyed, russet or halberget, namely two ells within the selvedges. Let it be the same with weights as with measures.”

If traders are free to choose different measurement units, consumers lose the ability to compare prices:

Today, many customers will have no knowledge of how to compare a unit price in £/lb in one shop with a unit price in £/kg in another. Some may still remember the rough conversion of two pounds being equivalent to about one kilogram. This rough conversion contains an error of about 10%, and it is this fact that unscrupulous traders prey on given any opportunity to do so. A price point of 99p/lb looks deceptively cheaper than a price of £2.15/kg, but in fact it is more expensive. Fooling customers into making poor purchase decisions is the last thing we need during a cost of living crisis.

Appealing to a false sense of nostalgia seems to rank high as one of the reasons behind this announcement. One can imagine that our Victorian ancestors might be proud of such a move. Fortunately, there is no need for us to speculate what Victorian politicians thought of imperial weights and measures, and what they hoped for the future. What they said on the subject is a matter of record in Hansard:

1864-07-21 : Weights And Measures (Metric System)

https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/1864-07-21/debates/849299d2-4978-4c90-8d6d-1c787a32536c/WeightsAndMeasures(MetricSystem)Bill

“… in short, nothing could be more confused than the present system. The adoption of the metric system would cure this want of uniformity, and would substitute for that which was inconvenient and difficult to learn a system which was simple and easy to be acquired. The adoption of this system would save half the time which was at present occupied in making calculations.”
“… a boy could make the same progress in arithmetic taught according to the metric system in ten months as would according to ​ the existing method take him two years and ten months to accomplish.”

1881-03-29 : Coinage – Decimal System

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1881/mar/29/resolution

MR. ASHTON DILKE rose to move – “That, in the opinion of this House, the introduction of a Decimal System of Coinage, Weights, and Measures ought not to be longer delayed.”
“… Our scientific men had not used anything but the metrical system for the last 40 years; and the great accuracy now acquired in mechanical work, such as the casting of guns and the like, was only to be obtained by the use of the decimal system.”
“… Again, one of the most strenuous upholders of the decimal system, either as to value or as to weights, was the late Sir Rowland Hill, the author of the penny post reform. The actual saving of clerical labour which would attend the change would be very considerable.”

1904-02-23 : Weights And Measures (Metric System)

https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/1904-02-23/debates/78646f4b-66a8-4ec1-91e1-d7830ae7616b/WeightsAndMeasures(MetricSystem)BillHl

“… While I look forward to the time, and no distant time, when they will adopt the change without difficulty and without repugnance, I should like to see private enterprise do more than it has done up to the present to show that the change can be adopted without inconvenience, and that it carries with it all the benefits which I, in common with you, firmly believe to be attached to the metric system, and which it is hopelessly impossible to associate with the arbitrary, perverse, and utterly irrational system under which we have all had the misfortune to be brought up.”

Anyone wanting to respect the hopes and wishes of our Victorian ancestors should be looking to continue their same enthusiasm for progress, and not seeking to retreat into the past in search of a golden age that never was. What better way to do this could there be than completing the centuries-long process of fully adopting the metric system.

References

Boris Johnson bids for Jubilee boost with return of imperial measurements
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-bids-jubilee-boost-27090524

Imperial measurement review to mark Jubilee
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/61621893

Boris Johnson to reportedly bring back imperial measurements to mark platinum jubilee
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/may/28/boris-johnson-set-to-bring-back-imperial-measurements-to-mark-platinum-jubilee

Boris to ‘bring back imperial measures for the Platinum Jubilee’
https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/28/boris-johnson-to-announce-imperial-units-change-on-platinum-jubilee-16729733/

21 thoughts on “Queen’s Jubilee celebrations to include return of imperial units?”

  1. Pushing Imperial units now is nothing short of ridiculous and an attempt to distract from Partygate and the U-turn on the windfall profit tax and lack of help for those struggling with inflation of food and energy prices.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Until recently I was of the opinion that, in spite of Partygate, Johnson misleading the Queen into authorising the proroguing of Parliament (to avoid last-minute challenges to his Brexit plans no doubt) etc., it would be in the best interests of the country if he were to put his errors behind him, remain Prime Minister and get on with the job. This latest idiotic idea is the last straw. If he thinks this will curry favour with those in the northern constituencies that turned blue last election, it won’t. These are poorer areas, more likely to be struggling with increasing bills and not in the least enamoured in a measure that will just complicate the retail market. I have joined the “Johnson must go” clan.
    The good news is that the big supermarkets are not going to go along with this mad idea. Some market traders may; some still do, but this has not won them trade off the supermarkets. The bad news is that areas where metrication still needs to take place, especially road signage, are unlikely to happen during the term of this government. We must live in hope that the next government will be one that looks forward and not back into mediaeval times.
    Thank goodness that, over the history of mankind, not everyone has had the Johnson mentality – or we would all still living in caves and dressing in animal skins.

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  3. I wonder how far this will get. Given the comments I have seen in the press, event the pro imperial ones, there seems little appetite for reverting back to imperial.
    The fact that it is being discussed is a tragedy in itself and will inevitably be a major setback for the country trying to find a new path on the world stage. There seems little doubt that more tolerance of imperial will come about, it is just how much, given that we should be going the opposite way and restricting its misuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In the above referenced Mirror article poll on this “Do you agree with plans to reintroduce imperial measurements?” 85% say NO, only 15% say yes. That is in a pro imperial paper under a basically pro-biased article.
    Looks like it will go ahead then!

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  5. I don’t know where to begin with all of this. First of all who or what is the real culprit behind all of this? Boris Johnson or the fake news media. The fake news media is publishing article after article that a declaration by Johnson will mean in an instant of time everything that is metric will magically return to imperial.

    If it is truly desired to return to imperial, what will really change? Will industry across the country revert their operations to imperial at no cost? Will packaged goods suddenly appear in increased imperial sizes with no cost increase?

    So, what happens if there is a change, but it takes decades to make happen and along the way there are tremendous price increases, shortages due to cut of imports and supplies. What about English companies that refuse to comply and continue to operate in metric?

    The evil fake news media will never allow a debate on the issue of the cost and losses to a reversion. They will insist a reversion will be quickly and free of costs and issues.

    I personally don’t think anything will come of this other than making the status quo permanent. Shops that refuse to use metric will continue to and those that price in pound and ounces will continue so and with government agreement.

    What will change is the right of Parliament to debate the issue of units and amend the WMA as seen fit. What will increase is the fraud behind the counter as merchants try to capitalise on the status quo to legally defraud customers. Lets hope that those out there with some intelligence will shop in stores that don’t follow this agenda.

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  6. Buying and selling in a commercial environment is a highly regulated business, and rightly so, to protect the consumer as well as the seller. Weights and measures fall under such rules. There have always been regulations about permitted units of measurement. It seems to be an exercise in futility to bring back units which were ditched over twenty years ago. There is nothing to be gained from doing that. It would make far more sense to actually finish off the job of completing the upgrade to full metric use and to preserve the concept of ancient measures and the artefacts relating to them in a museum. Let’s have a proper system of measurement if we are to be Global Britain competing in a metric world.

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  7. At least Mr. Johnson does not propose a return to pounds, shillings and pence….. yet! He is following in the footsteps of Napoleon, who did the same in France in 1812.

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  8. Daniel, first I think the main protagonist of all this is our Rt. Hon. member for the 18th century J. Reece-Mogg, Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government efficiency . . . LOL!
    Secondly backed up by PM Johnson who dislikes law and order, rules and other hindrances to ‘having fun’.
    Thirdly it seems to be a Tory trait, I know not why, but suspect it is ‘following the American dream’, Thatcher was the one that ‘saved the mile and the pint for Britain’ c1970 or whenever.
    I think you are correct in that nothing will change, more hot air and obfuscation to keep the country in the back waters and suppress the less educated plebs.

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  9. Less a document of consultation, than a statement of intent with a view to a whitewash already the intended outcome.
    Of course “WE” still use miles, of course “WE” still use pints, “WE” de-facto have no choice in the matter.

    The document makes quite clear that imperial is here to stay, it is just a question of how much fiddle room the rouge traders are given, no intent whatsoever to eliminate any imperial. No intent whatsoever to close the door on this farcical mess.
    I trust the official UKMA response will not bother with niceties nor political correctness, this is not good reading.

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  10. Click to access choice-on-units-of-measurement-markings-and-sales-consultation.pdf

    “The UK has a long and proud history of using imperial measures and their use is closely associated with our culture and language. Despite the transition to metric units in the late 1990s we commonly refer to our walks in miles, our babies in ounces and our fuel economy in miles per gallon. We also buy our beer and milk in pints. Imperial units
    therefore continue to play a role in our everyday shared experience.”

    The fact that the beginning of the so-called consultation specifically mentions the 1990s as the beginning of metrication, this would imply that the focus of a so-called return to imperial is with the scale conversion that took place at the time. There is no mention of weather reporting, prepackaged foods, petrol dispensed in litres, metric used in industry behind the scenes, etc.

    Its focus is on the purchasing of products asked for by weight. I’m sure that no matter how many people will respond and if the majority insists they want no reversion, they will ignore those comments and reverse the 1990s decision to metricate scales. I’m just wondering if the shops are going to be happily pay to purchase new scales.

    Maybe part of the tradition and nostalgia for imperial will mean dispensing with modern digital scales and returning to deprecated analog scales.

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  11. I have replied to the so called consultation. Added the omitted lines about using just SI and also responded to the complaints option for good measure. Just a blatant waste of taxpayers money.

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  12. @BrianAC. I would be careful about adding perceived omissions as this might result in your response being treated as a “spoilt paper” and being disregarded. I am replying to their questions with answers such as “None” in response to the question “Are there any specific areas of consumer transactions that should be a priority
    for allowing a choice in units of measurement, and why?” and follow that up with why there should be no choice. I am taking a similar line with other questions.

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  13. Martin, I have no false illusions about that at all, no one will take any notice anyway.
    The chances of any negative responses being even read is slim, but someone may take notice.
    At least it is not a tick-box exercise as that would indeed be a computerised reject, that is for useless ballot papers!
    Interesting link to the right of these posts: –
    Ros Hutchinson @ros_hutchinson
    Replying to @paullewismoney
    Someone helpfully rewrote the questionnaire for them.

    I have only just read it, but pretty much what I did. Certainly more like it should have been in the first place.
    Just a scam exercise, probably pick out the ones they want to keep.
    Sorry, I cannot think anything positive about this at all, as low as this government has sunk to so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Interestingly enough, one commentator on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp) suggests Canadians should ditch Imperial altogether:
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/as-the-u-k-brings-back-imperial-measurements-is-it-time-for-canada-to-drop-them-1.6472738

    If it weren’t for the drag on conversion from the USA Canada would have converted as completely as Australia or New Zealand long ago. Let’s hope the demise (soon?) of Boorish Johnson and his ilk will lead to a general election and a coalition Labour and Lib Dem government that finally finishes metrication. (Why Keir Starmer won’t back a return to the Single Market and the Customs Union is beyond belief, but that is entirely a different kettle of fish.)

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  15. Brian & Martin,

    I really don’t think it matters how one responds to the questions. Their mind is already made up. They just put this out to make it appear legitimate. It is not an official government document. It doesn’t have the support of any one that matters and the organisation responsible for it is in Birmingham, not London.

    Come autumn they will declare that a overwhelming majority of the population want a return to imperial or at least a return to pound scales and pricing.

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  16. Daniel, The Government is committed to moving lots of offices out of London and into the provinces (including Birmingham). This is part of their “leveling up” program and it reduces costs because office rentals are lower and civil servants who work there will not get a “London weighting”.

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  17. The consultation has been updated to allow several ‘sales should not be permitted in imperial units’ responses.

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  18. @Mike: I have revisited the page https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/choice-on-units-of-measurement-markings-and-sales. If you click on the link “Respond online” and go to Question 3a, you will see THREE choices, the third of which is “Not in imperial units”. If however you click on “Complete a response form …”, you will see the same questions as in the on-line survey except that Question 3a only has TWO options.

    I have written to my MP to draw this anomaly to attention. I await the minister’s response.

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  19. @Mike: I have revisited the page https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/choice-on-units-of-measurement-markings-and-sales. If you click on the link “Respond online” and go to Question 3a, you will see THREE choices, the third of which is “Not in imperial units”. If however you click on “Complete a response form …”, you will see the same questions as in the on-line survey except that Question 3a only has TWO options.
    I have written to my MP to draw this anomaly to attention. I await the minister’s response.

    Like

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