We were once the fierce and terrible zealots but now have only shallow gods

Some comments on an article by Andrew Marr (Sunday Times, Published: 27 December 2015)

My comments are in blue bold italics. The original article is in plain text.

andrew marr

We are at war in Syria. And one of the terrible things about wars is that they shrivel the imagination: warring peoples must caricature and exaggerate the idiocy and misdeeds of their enemies, while pumping their own virtues. Cool analysis chokes in the sand. This is not a bad moment, then, to ask what the West can learn from its Islamist enemies.

Cue bulging HM Bateman eyes; fanning of hot cheeks; flutterings of empurpled outrage. Learn from the fanatics? Learn from the fascist “death cult”? Jeepers, there must be something in this bloody paper about Charles Dickens and snow . . .

Well, to be clear, there are plenty of things we don’t need to learn from the self-described Islamic State. We don’t need to learn about roasting captives alive, or beheading the innocent, or the oppression of women, or the fanatical pursuit of religious orthodoxy, or the public murder of homosexuals, or obedient grovelling to demented old men.

We don’t need to learn because we did it all ourselves just a few centuries ago. Yes, and an important point, often ignored by Christians on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, whose model of Christianity is one of benign modernity: goodwill to all men, righteous and high moral standards, and tolerance; a hugely civilizing influence on our world, without which “we’d be savages”.

Do you know why women in Tudor times were burnt at the stake? Because the alternative punishment — disembowelling and hacking apart while still alive — required the victim to be naked and this, not the disembowelling, was ruled unseemly for women. It sounds just the kind of mad thing they’d be debating in the coffee houses of Raqqa.

In medieval France, the punishment for homosexuals was, for the first offence, castration, which clearly didn’t work since it was to be followed for later offences by dismemberment and then burning to death. I’d hope this is a far cry from the attitudes which prevail amongst Christians in the 21st century western developed world, but you don’t have to travel too far, even in 2015, to find Christians who support the death penalty for homosexuality.

We did it all — not just the British, but across Europe. Everything from public murder on the basis of small textual differences to sectarian warfare, the slaughter of “the wrong” civilians and state terror justified in the name of love and peace belongs first to the Christian wars of the early modern period. (an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless)

Like the Muslim version now, those wars provoked vast, history-changing migrations of desperate refugees. These transformed Britain for the better, because we got the Huguenots with their technical and mercantile skills; and on a rather larger scale, it provoked the first great European migration to North America, leading eventually to Donald Trump. (I suspect Andrew’s implication here is that this perhaps wasn’t universally a good thing).

It sometimes seems to me that Britons of the 21st century are being attacked not by something “out there” but by our earlier selves, the angriest Scots and English of the 17th century — as if, ghostlike, our own persecuting, fanatical forebears had returned to modern streets. We went through the Enlightenment, of course, but in key ways this is less a war between parts of the Middle East and parts of the West than a war between 2015 and, say, 1536 (the year William Tyndale went to the stake).

Which is where the learning might come in handy. What is the possible appeal of a return to the values of what most of us would consider the moral Dark Ages? Why do relatively well-educated, often articulate people brought up in the West today fall under the spell of clerics who resemble Luther at his most furious, or John Knox having a spectacularly bad afternoon?

When I was endeavouring to tell the story of the British through our poetry, again and again it struck me that the biggest gap between the British today and the previous thousand years or so was religious belief. For those of us who are atheist, agnostic or merely watery believers, it’s impossible to cross the boundary to understand literal belief. Shakespeare, Donne, Dunbar, Herbert and Milton all took for granted that there was heaven and hell, and that our brief spell on this damp, seasonal, difficult but delightful territory was only one episode in a much larger and more meaningful story.

Surely, that’s why people killed each other and burnt each other to death over what seemed to us to be the vanity of small differences. If you really believe it’s between everlasting damnation and eternal bliss, the pain of a knife can come to seem almost trivial. If the devil’s children are going to burn forever, the difference between cutting their heads off in their forties and allowing them to die of dementia four decades later isn’t existential. (Yes! This paragraph, and the preceding one, bear re-reading, and taking in the implications).

Go back to the poets, however, and you see again what enchanted, brightly coloured, highly dramatic, imaginative lives they led. For a medieval Christian, everything had meaning — plants and trees had symbolic meanings; the lives of animals told exemplary stories; saints haunted the wildwood; and the turning year was itself a daily parable of death and resurrection.

Our culture is often glibly described as essentially Christian. It really isn’t, not in any serious sense. I’m with you here, Andrew, though there is a sense in which our UK culture is Christian, and that’s in the long, tortuous, and often painful path we had to tread to reach this “comfort zone” of largely secular democracy. We have our sanitized and cherry-picked aspects of “nice” Christianity scattered about us, giving us a reference point to a past which was never really as we’d like to imagine it was. We have our cathedrals, the vicarage by the village green, the local stone church spire, the Christian pomp and pageantry of royal occasions, bishops in the House of Lords, Christmas carols, and Easter eggs. We have church marriages, funerals and Christenings and Godparents, often involving people who never see the inside of a church on any other occasion. We have “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4. We have a monarch who heads an established church, and FD (for Fidei Defensor) on our coins (though, interestingly enough, no religious reference on our banknotes, in contrast to “In God We Trust” on the banknotes of the constitutionally secular USA. Indeed, a portrait of Charles Darwin adorns our £10 note, which would probably be an unacceptable affront were it to appear on a dollar bill, in the land of anti-science and Young Earth Creationism).  We have been freed from that enchanted world and scattered out into an almost wholly material civilisation, a city centre in which the only thing left standing is the market. Individually, we aren’t going anywhere except the “care homes” that are anything but homes. Well, OK, Andrew, but that’s a rather bleak analysis, drawing a false dichotomy between empty consumerism and materialism – essentially life without purpose – on the one hand, and religious faith on the other. I’ll come back to this key point at the end.

It’s too thin gruel. Material satisfaction matters. A lot. If you are lucky enough to be close to the top of the tree, then ever-better skiing holidays, larger second homes, whatever takes your fancy . . . well, life’s pretty good. But as Niall Ferguson pointed out on these pages, even white, male, middle-class Americans are going through a period of angry disillusion. And for the vast numbers of people for whom material improvement is small-scale, slow in coming and never as lavish as advertised, then the gruel is cruel.

Islamism can seem to offer a bigger, more dramatic, more meaningful narrative. We simply see the blood and screaming. They see the world throwing up brighter colours and harsher, desert shadows. This excitement is what, to many, the Reformation, and indeed the Counter-Reformation, must have brought. But this is coming at us just as we in the West are scrabbling around for new stories that make more sense than frantic consumption — and mostly, failing. Mostly? There’s the rub.

Some will say, particularly at Christmas, that an obvious answer is to return to our own Christian heritage. Yet for millions of us, putting the faith genie back in the bottle seems impossible: you can’t unwrite Darwin, you can’t unthink Einstein or forget Galileo. Whoa, Andrew. Millions of us? Maybe, but your implication is that the Theory of Evolution (ToE), or the physics of relativity, or a non-earth-centric solar system are insights which have chipped away at a religious faith which would have otherwise remained robust. While it is true that they, in particular the ToE, are in direct conflict with the Christian fundamentalist belief in the literal truth of the Genesis creation story,  this has led to a perverse flourishing of anti-science apologetics, particularly in the USA, and a growth in Young Earth Creationism. About 40% of the adult population of the USA reject the ToE, and adhere instead to a Christian fundamentalism.

In fact, it is arguable that advances in scientific knowledge and understanding, though influential, are not the main factor leading to erosion of religious faith in the UK. There are devout Christians who manage to  reconcile their faith with modern scientific knowledge: our Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is one such example. And for the Roman Catholic Church, the Theory of Evolution has been “accepted” since 1950, with the work of Pope Pius XII. I would argue that the decline in Christian faith observed in the UK is more to do with a cultural shift towards openness and questioning and the valuing of evidence, a widening appreciation of world religions and their essential incompatibility, and a legitimisation of a non-religious worldview, as prominent authors, scientists, and broadcasters have been free to present their views, and have not been shy in doing so.  The Christian establishment has been left without much recourse, in a culture where scientific endeavour and rational assessment of evidence are valued above traditional views and religious faith, which, by definition, is “belief without evidence”.

Whatever analysis is most accurate, though, doesn’t affect your premise: return to a predominance of Christian faith is not a possibility in the UK. The tide is flowing inexorably in the other direction, as evidenced by pretty much every piece of opinion research, trends in church attendances, and by the data in our national census.

Meanwhile, our wonderful science races ahead in blinkers. It doesn’t stop to look around, explain itself or cheer us up. There are rare examples, such as Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow and The Magic of Reality, but he’s a relatively lonely voice. Thankfully not so rare: Lawrence Krauss, Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawking all work (or worked) to bring science to the “man on the Clapham omnibus”. So too do Alice Roberts, Brian Cox, and that personal hero of mine, David Attenborough, in the world of popular TV documentary.  So millions turn to daft fantasy — turning the Star Wars films into a digitally enhanced Manichaean belief system. Or we cast around for conspiracy theories and extreme politics to explain the world. Yes, some indeed do, but the nutters are relatively few in number.

Eventually, Chewbacca and Chomsky join hands; Darth Vader and the neoliberal Zionist Illuminati clunk around in the shadows.

It’s funny — except that we really are at war. With all its revolting brutality, fascist Islamism knows the blind spots and weaknesses in western culture. There is a sleazy, materialistic shallowness about it that we don’t much enjoy, either. Those bastards really are medieval — that’s the point — but they have found us out. A sleazy, materialistic shallowness? If that were all we had, then yes, we’d have been “found out”, rather as you say. But it’s not all we have – far from it.

An atheist doesn’t base his decisions on some promise of deferred benefit in an afterlife, or some threat of damnation, or on a set of rules written down a couple of thousand years ago, when scientific knowledge was scant by today’s standards. Since the atheist sees such notions as illusory, religion cannot provide “purpose”; rather, it encourages people not to question, but to accept religious dogma instead of striving to better understand the world.

But, and this is the key point, atheism is not synonymous with materialism. For some, it’s true, the pursuit of material wealth and “success” has become an end in itself, but for atheists of a humanistic approach, the universe is full of awe and wonder. The pursuit of knowledge, whether for its own sake, or for the advancement of the human condition, is an inherent good which provides joy, purpose, and pleasure. We also derive joy, purpose and pleasure from helping our fellow human beings, and from our relationships with those we love. This is not to try to claim any special merit or moral high ground – it is more a description of the human condition. A cliché perhaps, but the best things in life cannot be bought, or measured in financial terms. In the end, that is the common ground between the devout and the atheist.

Changing the clocks – what should happen in a rational world?

1          Introduction

The autumn equinox is behind us, and we face the long dark nights of winter ahead. On the last Sunday in October , we go through the twice-yearly ritual of the great Clocks Change. At least in the October change, most of us get an extra hour’s sleep, though spare a thought for those working nights who might be working one extra hour for no extra pay.  If you’re like me, you’ll go round the home changing the time setting on the many devices that all seem to have a clock/timer now: the car, the microwave, the oven, the central heating timer,  stereo systems, TV’s, smart phones, cameras, etc, as well as watches and clocks. Last count for me it came to 59 – though to be fair, many of them do it automatically now. I must also spare a thought for those technophobes amongst us who can never work out how to reset their car clock or their oven clock. and who have to make a mental adjustment until the clocks to forward again in the spring! Yes, there are people like that.

I confess to a feeling of gloom putting the clocks back, as I face 5 months of dark evenings. It stimulates another thought too, when I ponder the question “why do we have to do this?” Why do we choose the time to be what it is, and why do we change it an hour forward for the 7 “summer” months and back again for the 5 “winter” months.  Might there might be a better system?


2      A bit of history.

“What time is it?” That’s a banal enough question we hear almost every day. We don’t often think about it too deeply, except if perhaps we’re planning to phone from the UK to speak to our daughter in Australia, or we’re in a plane half way across the Atlantic. I remember the confusion when I flew from Fiji to Hawaii, left at 9pm on a Friday, and arrived at 6am on the same Friday. Weird, crossing the Date Line: two Fridays in a row one way, then straight from Thursday to Saturday on the way back! But aside from these unusual circumstances, the time is just the time, isn’t it?

Well, no, not exactly. We can’t do anything about the number of days of our earth year: about 365 and a quarter. We can’t do anything about the length of our day, when the sun rises, and when it sets. But how we divide up the day is arbitrary. We chose 24 units, or “hours”, because it can be divided exactly by many factors: 2,3,4,6, etc.

Long before we had clocks, we did have sundials, and reckoned time by when the sun was highest in the sky – we called that midday, or noon. “Afternoon” was the second half of the day, as defined by natural daylight. We divided the day up into 24 hours, 12 each side of mid-day. Bear with me for a little technical terminology now: the time indicated on a sundial is called Apparent Solar Time, or true local time. The time measured in terms of a longitudinal meridian is called Mean Solar Time, or local mean time.

Before there were any such things as time zones, or any standard times, individual towns and cities had their own “time” according to their location. When there wasn’t much travel going on, and no public transport, this didn’t really matter too much.

The first country to change this was Great Britain, with the advent of the railways. Timetables needed to work, and the Great Western Railway was the first to adopt London time, or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), in November 1840, but it took another 40 years before time was officially standardised across the country, when the legal system eventually adopted GMT, with the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act receiving Royal Assent on August 2, 1880. That’s only 135 years ago. For all of human history before then, we’ve been using whatever local systems suited us for measuring time.

Other parts of the world reformed as well, but the pace of change was far from uniform. In the USA, up until 1883, time of day was a local matter, and most cities and towns used some form of local solar time, maintained by a prominent clock. But in 1883, the railways began to operate standard time in time zones in the USA and Canada. The new standard time system was not immediately embraced by all, however. With a typical American propensity for bloody-mindedness, some US cities dragged their feet: for example, Detroit kept local time until 1900, when the City Council decreed that clocks should be put back 28 minutes to Central Standard Time. After much objection and debate, the decree was overturned and the city reverted to sun time, and it was not until 1905 that common sense prevailed, and Central Standard Time was adopted by city vote.

Nowadays, with international travel and international business, we take it for granted that everywhere in the world belongs to some time zone or other. It is a convenient feature of our planet that the 180o meridian is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so that we can have an international dateline which only requires a few minor tweaks to avoid passing through any archipelago or land mass, except the uninhabited area near the South Pole. Even then, Samoa and Tokelau both chose to “skip a day” and move from the eastern to the western side of the dateline in December 2011. Their rationale was to be aligned with their principal trading partners Australia and New Zealand. The dateline was therefore redrawn on our maps in that region of the South Pacific. You are now in a position to answer this obscure question if it comes up in a pub quiz: where and when was there no 30th of December?

So, we divide the world up into time zones, each one hour different from the adjacent zone. Well, most often this is how it works, but there are many exceptions. The following have a time zone which is not a whole hour from GMT:

  • Half-hours: India, South Australia; Newfoundland (Canada), Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Myanmar, plus a few island groups.
  • 45 minutes: Northern Territory (Australia), Nepal, plus a few island groups.

Such precision!


3          Daylight Saving Time (DST)

Interesting as all that might be (well, it is to me, anyway)  it’s only an introduction to my topic, changing the clocks. What is this thing called Daylight Saving Time, and why do we have it?

It started in Britain in the early 20th century, when in 1907 William Willett published a pamphlet called The Waste of Daylight, suggesting that in summer time, valuable daylight hours were being wasted with people still being in bed, and proposing to change the time of the UK’s clocks in the summer months to British Summer time (BST).  However, he died in 1915 with the UK Government still refusing to back BST. One year later, in May 1916, UK passed the Summer Time Act, and started changing its clocks twice a year: GMT in the winter and BST in the summer.

Other countries quickly followed suit, eg the USA in 1918. Of course, it makes no sense to do this in locations near the equator, where the day is more or less the same length all year round, but most countries which are towards the north or south of the planet have adopted some form of DST, and change their clocks twice a year.

In the UK, there have even been periods of double summer time: in 1940, during World War II, clocks across Britain were not put back an hour at the end of British Summer Time, in order to save fuel and money; in the following years to 1945, the clocks were put forward 1 hour in spring and back again 1 hour in autumn, which meant that during World War II, British summers were 2 hours ahead of GMT. Then again in 1968, the UK Labour Government, under Harold Wilson, began an experiment to put the clocks forward an extra hour, ie 1 hour ahead of GMT in winter and 2 hours ahead in the summer, just as in the war years. However, there was a lobby against the change, in particular, from the rebellious Scots, who objected to the darker winter mornings; with shorter winter daylight hours the further north one goes, the system meant that northern Scotland would be dark in mid-winter until 10am. In 1971, the House of Commons voted to abandon the experiment by a large majority of 366 votes to 81. Personally, as a Scottish University student in Glasgow at the time, I loved the system, and was disappointed when it reverted.

4          Recent Proposals to Move to Double Summer Time in UK

 More recently, there have been moves in the UK to revive the double summer time system. A legislative proposal on this issue was The Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11, a Private Member’s Bill brought forward by MP Rebecca Harris. The Bill if passed would have required the production of a cost-benefit report on advancing time by one hour throughout the year for the whole of the UK, and, if the evidence produced were sufficiently compelling, and were accepted by all UK Governments (ie including the Scottish Parliament) triggered a trial of the system to take place. Not an earth-shattering or onerous commitment! But the Bill ran out of Parliamentary time.

However, “ran out of parliamentary time” is a phrase which often carries deeper connotations. In this case, the Bill was effectively killed by a small band of MPs who scandalously decided to “talk it out of the House”, despite the Bill’s widespread popular support, the backing of the Government, and scores of MPs. This occurred on 20 January 2012, when there were 160 MP’s present, of whom 146 were in favour of the bill. The small band of 10 blockers was led by Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, who alone contributed a quarter of all the words spoken in the debate. So you might say, a very helpful Bill “got the Chope”.

The Government subsequently did commission a review of the available evidence on changes to clocks in order “to inform debate”. The review [1], published in summer 2012, concluded that it would be possible to produce a formal cost-benefit analysis of a clock change, but said that more work would need to be done. In July 2012 the UK Government said that it had “no current plans” to make changes to clock times. In other words, the idea was kicked into the long grass.

Why does this matter, and who were trying to bring forward the change via a Private Member’s Bill? It matters for two reasons: one, the principle of an abuse of the democratic process, which is shameful, and two, the substantive arguments for change. The main proponents of change were RoSPA (Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents), who were campaigning for reasons of trying to reduce accidental injuries and deaths, and the “Lighter Later” Campaign, led by Daniel Vockins, (daniel.vockins@neweconomics.org), initially motivated by the energy savings potential.


5          Arguments for and against UK Double Summer Time

For shorthand, I’ll call the idea SDST – Single/Double Summer Time: 1 hour ahead of GMT in the 5 winter months from late October to late March, and 2 hours ahead of GMT from late March to late October. We’d still be changing the clocks twice a year, as we do now, so why is SDST an idea at all? The arguments fall into the following main categories:

5.1    Regional/occupational: it’s OK for some but not others

5.2    Accidents/road safety

5.3    Reduced energy use / CO2 pollution

5.4    Tourism

5.5    Business

5.6    Health/exercise

5.7    Leisure

5.8    Elderly/retired people – quality of life

5.9    Crime

Let’s look at these in turn.

5.1       It’s OK for some but not others

There were a lot of reservations expressed about SDST during the 1968/71 trial, particularly by industries / occupations whose workers rise early and utilise morning light, for example some farmers, those who collect and deliver milk, the building industry and postal workers. But things have moved on: postal workers deliver mail later in the day than in 1968/71; modern farming methods have reduced the impact on farm workers, with many now neutral or positive about SDST, and in any event, clock time has minor impact on when farming activities take place; in Scotland, the National Farmers’ Union position is no longer opposed to the change, as it was in 1968/71.

In terms of location, there is a generally weaker support for SDST in Scotland than in England and Wales. A 2005 MORI poll suggested that only 40% of Scots were in favour of the change. However, the objections cited did not hold water when examined in any detail:

  • ‘This is something which would benefit the English, not the Scottish.’ This is not true: in all the major dimensions measurable – road safety, environmental benefit and fuel cost, tourism, health and wellbeing – Scotland would benefit disproportionately compared to England and Wales.
  • ‘There is nothing that can be done – there is only so much available daylight in Scotland.’ This is not true: because Scotland has less available daylight in winter, it is more important for Scotland to manage it carefully, because it is a more precious resource. This fine-tuning is required to get the most benefit out of the available daylight north of the border.
  • ‘It would make sense for England to go one hour ahead and Scotland to remain where it is.’ This is plainly nonsensical, since it is geographically a north-south issue, unaffected by time zones. If it were a significant east-west issue, there might be benefits in different countries in the UK going to different time-zones. And, of course, consistency of time zones wherever possible makes sense.
  • ‘More children will die because of the darker mornings.’ This is not true: the effect of SDST is to save children’s lives, even more so in Scotland than in England and Wales, because Scotland has longer, darker winter evenings, which is where the principal casualties occur. The only way to make this argument is to cite the increased accidents which would occur in the darker mornings, while ignoring the larger number of accidents avoided in the lighter evenings. Indeed, Scottish opposition arose from the 1968/71 experiment exactly because certain media reported an increase in child casualties in the morning, omitting to mention that the evening reduction had more than compensated for this increase. This generated a widely-held belief that this would be bad for Scotland, when in fact, the opposite is true.

However, opinions in Scotland seem to be changing. Scottish famers were reported in November 2010 to take a view supporting SDST.

5.2       Accidents/Road Safety

This is arguably the area of strongest argument for changing to SDST, since it would have the direct effect of reducing injuries and death. This is why RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) have been very active in advocating the change. Their work on examining the effects of the 1968/71 experiment (March 1968 to October 1971) indicated that the trial period saved around 300 deaths and serious injuries per year. You can see RoSPA’s work on SDST in more detail on their website [2].

During the working week, casualty rates peak from 8am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm, with the afternoon peak being higher for both. Road casualty rates increase with the arrival of darker evenings and worsening weather conditions. Every autumn when the clocks go back and sunset occurs earlier in the day, road casualties rise. The effects are worse for the most vulnerable road users like children, the elderly, cyclists and motorcyclists. RoSPA’s calculations suggest that a move to SDST could reduce road deaths by around 80 per year and serious injuries by around 212 per year.

The relative peaks are explained by several factors:

  • Motorists are more tired after a day’s work and concentration levels are lower
  • Children tend to go straight to school in the morning but often digress on their way home, increasing their exposure to road dangers
  • Adults tend to go shopping or visit friends after work, increasing their journey times and exposure to road dangers
  • Social and leisure trips are generally made in the late afternoons and evenings.

These factors explain why moving to SDST would produce significant net benefits – although there would be a slight increase in the morning accident peak, this would be more than offset by the reduction in the higher evening peak.

In 2009, the Department for Transport’s consultation paper, “A Safer Way: Making Britain’s Roads the Safest in the World”, confirmed that moving to lighter evenings would prevent about 80 deaths on the road a year. Also in 2009, the National Audit Office published “Improving Road Safety for Pedestrians and Cyclists in Great Britain”. In a section looking at seasonal road casualty patterns from 2000-2007, the report stated that there were 10% more collisions killing or injuring a pedestrian in the four weeks following the clocks going back than in the four weeks before the clocks changed.

5.3  Reduced energy use / CO2 pollution

According to a Cambridge University study, moving to SDST would cut carbon emissions by ~450,000 tonnes each year. The energy saved would be equivalent to the annual domestic electricity consumption of 85% of all the power generated by wind, wave and solar renewable energy in England. This is because of the peak in electricity use in the evening: lighter evenings would reduce the size of the peak, and greatly overcompensate for an increased consumption in darker mornings.

5.4  Tourism

Changing to SDST would bring a substantial financial boost to Britain’s tourism industry. It would extend by two months the part of the tourist season that is dependent upon daylight hours, and enable later closing of tourist facilities – useful as the demand for facilities is greater after lunchtime. A Policy Studies Institute study confirms that there would be benefits to tourism through

  • Extending the tourism season.
  • Boosting UK inbound tourism by an estimated £1bn per annum.
  • Boosting overall tourism earnings by an estimated £3bn.
  • Increasing jobs to cater for increased growth by 60,000 to 80,000.

SDST would increase the attraction of off-peak and short-break holidays, simplify international timetables, and bring benefits to airlines, cross-channel ferry and rail operators.


5.5 Business

SDST would align the UK working day with that in continental Europe, for more effective working, including travelling on the day of meetings leading to fewer overnight stays. At present, the UK market loses an hour of overlap in the morning with Europe and an hour overlap in the evening. Both of these would be removed, increasing overlap by 25% of the working day. Stock market hours would match Europe, and produce a greater overlap with Asia – and although it would mean a reduced overlap with North America, the EU accounts for well over half of the UK’s foreign trade (much more than North America).

Ironically, this is one of the arguments used against SDST, in that it could be portrayed as pandering to Europe – the thin end of another wedge in closer integration with Europe. This of course is emotive nonsense, though it does have some traction with the UK vote for Brexit. In fact, the benefits would accrue irrespective of UK membership of the EU.

 5.6 Health/exercise

SDST would bring an average increase of 28% more accessible daylight during waking hours, maximising the beneficial effect of natural light – summer sunlight is our primary source of vitamin D. Because of this, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and sub-clinical depression, suffered by 500,000 people in the UK, would be reduced by this extra hour of accessible daylight.

Extra daylight hours for leisure activity would help fight increasing obesity in UK society, particularly among the young. After-school outdoor sporting activities, which predominantly take place immediately at the end of the school day, would benefit from a lengthened usable season.

 5.7 Leisure

SDST would bring a shift in average sunset time year round from 6.35pm to 7.30pm giving an average gain of 55 minutes of “accessible” evening daylight every day of the year.

More evening daylight would encourage outdoor activity, making outdoor leisure activities possible in the evening during two more months of the year – people spend about 60% more time watching TV in winter than in summer. In 2009, a YouGov poll found that:

  • 2 out of 3 people asked would support the change
  • A third of those asked believed it would improve their wellbeing
  • Almost half would use the extra time on extra leisure and sporting activity

It would stay lighter and warmer later each day, making it possible to enjoy more evening meals and drinks outdoors – and SDST would be welcomed by organisations representing the interests of Britain’s 2-3 million keen gardeners.


5.8 Elderly/retired people – quality of life

The UK’s increasingly ageing population would benefit disproportionately from a change to SDST. Older/retired people generally do not leave their homes until after the rush hour (10am onwards) and are ‘curfewed’ by the onset of darkness in the evening. This is determined by several factors including fear of crime, fear of slips, trips and falls and the end of concessionary fare periods. Enabling older people to be out and about later would improve their health and wellbeing, helping to keep them fitter later in life which would in turn reduce their dependence on others, including the state.

 5.9       Crime

A move to SDST would reduce opportunistic crime facilitated by the cover of darkness – over half of criminal offences take place during the hours of darkness in the late afternoon or evening and, of the small proportion of offences occurring in conditions of semi-darkness, far more occur at dusk than dawn (Home Office British Crime Survey 1988-1992). With SDST, more people would be at home after work/school in daylight, so reducing the window of opportunity for opportunistic crime.

As well as reducing crime itself, it would also reduce the fear and cost of crime.

6  Summary and Conclusions

It is rare to find a legislative proposal which would cost virtually nothing to implement, but which would have wide ranging benefits and very few downsides. Perhaps you are not impressed by some of the arguments I’ve cited above, or perhaps SDST is not a topic to which you’ve given much thought. However, if you’ve read this far, I hope I might have sparked an interest. The proposal has receded in public consciousness since the shameful failure of the Private Member’s Bill in January 2012, by being talked out of time. But the potential benefits have not gone away. I’m sure RoSPA will continue to bang the drum. What can you do?

  • Go to the RoSPA website and log your support for SDST    http://www.rospa.com/campaigns-fundraising/current/lighter-evenings/
  • Write to your MP, and quote this article if you like
  • Look out for change.org petitions – they tend to get active around the spring and autumn equinoxes, when people are changing their clocks anyway, so the subject is fresh in their minds.

Jim Steele




[1]   http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2012-1348/ANNEX-DaylightSavingScopingStudy.

[2]   Safety Gone Sane, RoSPA: https://safetygonesane.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/lighting-up-time/