Conrad Landin

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Varsity: We should stop all the clocks

The business lobby has pushed for it, but ‘going european’ would be a terrible decision

A tent city in London, a crisis in the Eurozone and more turmoil in Afghanistan. You’d think our politicians had more important things to discuss than the time.

But as Tory MP Rebecca Harris puts forward a proposal to move us to European time – an hour forward – make no mistake, it matters. In the age of distraction at the hands of Facebook and one-and- a-half-hour episodes of Downton Abbey, it wouldn’t be unfounded to say to suggest that such a change is minor. But if an hour is ever important, it matters in the morning, when keeping to the schedules of work, education and daily life is crucial.

If you’ve ever worked nights, or simply slept with the curtains drawn, you will have realised our natural instinct to wake with the light. Rising in the dark, however, is fundamentally unappealing, especially when in the cold; yet that’s what we’d be doing for half the year under the proposal to move to European time.

And if it’s bad for us in the South, spare a thought for those further afield. In parts of Scotland, the sun would not rise until the staggering time of 10am.

So how on earth can this be seen as a serious proposition? The government, previously opposed to the change, has been steadily clawing back, and now business minister Ed Davey says it is “only right” to consider the proposal.

As ever, it seems to be the ubiquitous ‘business lobby’ that is pushing for the change. No wonder: it’s a prime chance to squeeze in an extra hour of trading stocks with Europe.

In the early 90s, big business was key in securing the repeal of the ban on Sunday trading. While the law supposedly allows employees ‘family time’ off, this is frequently abused by employers, and when it is respected it is often given at times when children are at school. Religious or not, British people value Sundays as a day of rest and relaxation, yet this is increasingly a luxury rather than a right.

In his hit ‘The Manchester Rambler’, Ewan MacColl professes: “I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday.” Not in twenty-first century Britain.

More recently, huge swathes of our town centres have been brought under business control, and political activism and rough sleeping have been repressed – simply because businesses believe they reduce profitability.

Just look at the grassroots Occupy London Stock Exchange protest, which was prevented from convening in the (business-owned) Paternoster Square in the City of London. The Stock Exchange had decided it would be inconvenient for bankers and tourists, and so it was that the right to peacefully protest, won after years of campaigning and sacrifice, was lost.

Not content with controlling our economy, our employment rights and our cities, they want the time as well. If they can squeeze a few more million out, which will no doubt end up in the bonuses of City bankers, then they’re in favour of it.

Never mind the schoolchildren who will be getting up in the dark each morning, or the checkout assistants at supermarkets who will never see daylight at all. Or the millions of workers who thought they’d taken a job with civilized hours only to find that they’re brushing their teeth in the dark every day.

If you want to see how our society has changed, just consider that the last time we changed our patterns of time – the introduction of British Summertime in 1916 – Winston Churchill argued that it would enlarge “the opportunities for the pursuit of health and happiness”. Now abolition is proposed for the convenience of big business.

That’s capitalism for you.

This article first appeared in Varsity, Cambridge’s independent weekly student paper. See it as it appeared on the page HERE.


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