Scales

The second in an occasional series that shows how the most numerous older generation in history may be lauding it over the younger generations like never before. Today, a look at weights and measures.

How many people born of the millennial generation – that’s born in the decade or so before the turn of the millennium, know how many ounces there are in a pound? It’s a rhetorical question, a quick Google search was unable to find any survey looking into this question. The point is that one assumes that of people born below a certain age – say 35 – most know next to nothing about the older, imperial way of weighing things.

It is confusing, of course, the Americans talk about someone’s weight in pounds, which means for Brits, who still think in stones, they have to do a quick calculation dividing the pound weight by 14 – assuming that is they know that there are 14 pounds to a stone.

But now we are set to leave the EU – supposedly – maybe we can go back to old money, as it were, that is to say: ounces, pounds, stones, pints, gallons, inches and Fahrenheit. Although no one sensible is yet suggesting a return to pounds, shillings and pence.

Warwick Cairns, from the British Weights and Measures Association said: "In 2000, to comply with European legislation, the Government made it a criminal act for a greengrocer to sell a pound of bananas. We thought this was outrageous then. We think it outrageous now. And with our exit from the EU, the legal basis of compulsory metrication will be repealed. We believe it's now time to restore freedom of choice."

Peter Bone, a Eurosceptic Tory MP said: "Given that our biggest trading partner by a mile – the United States – is still on imperial measurements, it has always been silly that we have had to just do it in metric. It makes sense and is one of the advantages of coming out of the EU. That is one of those things that can be implemented now so that when we actually pull out it is a smooth process. It is a first-class idea and I hope the Government embraces it.”

It is just that the US is not the UK’s biggest trading partner by a mile, the EU is. It is just that this new-fangled way, you know grams, litres, metres, use base ten. So there are 1,000 millimetres to a metre, one thousand grams to a kilogram, ten millimetres to a centimetre, and converting up or down the measurements scale is a matter of adding or taking off noughts.

There is a technical phrase that describes the advantage of the metric system, and the technical phrase is – and excuse the use or jargon: ‘it is easier’.

People from the metric martyrs may want to look that phrase up.

Is it easier, and thus in the long run, more efficient, and thus cheaper, and better for the economy.

But it is difficult to get people to change, if the older imperial system is ingrained into them, people will have a natural resistance which can only countered by quite deliberate government policy.

And we have done the hard bit – for 40 years or so we have been weaning people off the old system – although most Brits still think in terms of feet and inches when talking about height, pints when talking about beer, but litres when talking about wine, and metres when talking about track and field.

So granted it is confusing, but the way to avoid confusion is not to rewind the clock and, in a nod to a libertarian idealism, let retailers price goods according to whatever weights system they choose.

The main reason why the UK voted for Brexit in the EU referendum was because the baby boomer generation of whom the author is a member – voted that way. The majority of millennials voted to Remain, and many of this generation resent the idea that they will have to live the result of this vote for the rest of their long lives. Now the same millennial generation are saying we need to bring back imperial weights and measures.

The cost and inconvenience will be worth many talents of silver, and at least an elephants’ weight in gold.

See The tyranny of the baby boomers, part one: the income divide for more