There is much debate about whether the Conservative pledge to hold an in/out referendum on the EU will win votes from UKIP, or whether UKIP supporters are more concerned with other issues such as immigration. However Lord Ashcroft's research last year suggested that UKIP's support base stemmed not from policy, but outlook. It found exasperation with the political and administrative class speaking in a different language to the rest of us. Too much jargon and not enough straight talking.
If a council says it is "engaging with communities" it is a pretty good sign that it isn't. Often Conservative councillors find their capacity to think eroded by all the bureaucrat-speak. For example, take the word "investment" – as in "investing in children", "investing in libraries", "investing in parks", "investing in the community", "investing in people". What is meant is spending. Such spending might or might not be justified. By calling it "investment" users avoid making a rigorous judgment.
It is against this background that the newly elected UKIP councillors in East Sussex have challenged the use of metric measures. Good for them.
Most residents in their county use miles rather than kilometres. So why doesn't the council? Are the council officers interested in talking to themselves in a language they prefer, or in talking to their residents? Whose council is it anyway? There is no requirement for the council to use metric rather than imperial. Central government has a mix and match approach. Indeed sometimes even the same piece of legislation uses both. For instance this planning regulation says:
(4) The advertisement is to be displayed on land adjacent to highway land, in a manner which makes it reasonably visible to an approaching driver, but not within 50 metres of a traffic sign intended to be observed by persons approaching from the same direction.
(5) No advertisement may be more than two miles from the main entrance of the site.
Traffic signs, of course, are nearly always in miles. Schools have been pushing metric measures – doubtless a legacy from New Labour's desire to conform with Eurocrat demands. But changes by Michael Gove means imperial measures are being revived.
Council trading standards tend to find better things to do than enforce the 1994 amendments to the Weights and Measures Act which:
Section 8 of the Act is amended so as to make unlawful the use for trade of the pint, fluid ounce, pound or ounce except as supplementary indications of quantity or where a derogation which is reflected in section 8(2) permits their use as primary units. The pound (lb), for example, may be used either as a supplementary indication or, until 1st January 2000 (see article 3(2) of this Order), as a primary indication for the sale of goods loose from bulk.
This was "gold plating" on an EU directive which did not cover retail trade. So why hasn't the Government scrapped this odious law as part of the Red Tape Challenge?
Few supporters of metric measures will openly declare their disdain for British tradition. However the arguments they do put forward don't really … measure up. Isn't it helpful for us to use kilometres so that visiting France is easier? But what about visiting America? Isn't it confusing to have a mix of two different systems? Then why not just use imperial which most people are familiar with?
If UKIP councillors submit a motion to the next East Sussex County Council meeting, instructing staff to use imperial measures, I hope that Conservative councillors will support it. The council and the residents could then speak the same language.