Leading Article: Prolonging the imperial anguish

Share
Related Topics
The Sunday afternoon pint of shandy in the local pub was short lived. Permitted at last by the relaxation of the licensing laws in August, it was banned again by metrication yesterday. This time the problem is not the alcohol content of shandy, but the fact that it contains lemonade, and so, unlike "traditional" beer, cannot be sold in a pint measure. Sounds absurd, but apart from the odd irritation, most people will hardly have noticed that Britain just stepped up a gear in its transition from imperial to metric measures.

Pounds and ounces are out. Grams and kilos are in. Products must be labelled in metric. They can have imperial labels too, and they don't actually have to change the size of the product they package. So a pound of cheese is fine so long as the label says 454g. Loose food products are still exempt, so are measures that describe a product and so are deeply embedded within our culture: the pint of beer in the pub, the pint of milk on the doorstep, and the 16-inch shirt collar. Eighty per cent of grocery goods already comply with the regulations, so it's hard to see why anyone should complain, other than the Imperial Metrics Preservation Society.

Yet the Federation of Small Businesses and several national newspapers are up in arms. They claim the changes are confusing, unnecessary and costly for retailers. At worst, metrication represents a further loss of British sovereignty in the face of homogenising babble from Brussels bureaucrats. But Eurosceptic passion is aiming at completely the wrong target. The European market is not the only reason for Britain making the change. Metric is easier to use. There are a thousand grams to the kilo, a hundred pence to the pound and 10 fingers to the person.

So why not have both systems of measurement running in tandem? Let those who need familiarity stick with the pounds and ounces they can visualise, and those who need to do lots of adding up use the maths-friendly milligrams, grams, and kilos. Then if the metric measures win in an open competition, no one can complain. The trouble is, that means the worst of both worlds. Confused shoppers can't work out if packaged tomatoes at pounds 1.60 for 750g are better value than the loose cherry variety at 80p/lb. The point about standard weights and measures is to make sure that the marketplace is fair and everyone knows how much they are buying and selling. The most sensible objection to changing from a familiar to a new measuring system is that in the confusion of the conversion, customers are easily conned - but that's all the more reason to get it over and done with, so we can all get used to the new units.

Furlongs, acres, cubits, and stone have all been around a long time. There are 20 fluid ounces in a pint, two pints in a quart, four quarts in a gallon, two gallons in a peck, four pecks in a bushel and 8 bushels in a quarter. There is a strange beauty about such myriad and complex numbers and patterns developed with quirks and hiccups through the centuries. Even so, the real test of a system of weights and measures is its ease of use, not its depth of culture and tradition. No matter how aesthetically pleasing the sixpence, few would wish to return now to pounds, shillings and pence.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence