Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Give an inch and they'll take 2.54cm

Oh dear, John Hemming is being wacky again.

The amorous MP for Birmingham Yardley, who according to his patient wife has had 26 affairs despite resembling one of the less trendy 1980s Open University professors, has tabled an Early Day Motion about metrication.

Mr Hemming, whose wife last year ended up in court for stealing his mistress's cat, is upset that "reports in the BBC and other media outlets" have referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer "coming down like a tonne of bricks on wealthy people who sell properties through offshore companies to avoid stamp duty".

He wants us to use "ton" instead, observing that not only is the imperial spelling more British but it is heavier - about 16kg heavier - than a metric tonne. We are, apparently, "understating the Chancellor's commitment to action" by spelling it thus.

Hemming then calls on the media to cease metrication "before people end up being exhorted not to give another 24.5 millimetres rather than not giving another inch".

Which would be a better point if there were not actually 25.4mm in an inch...

So far, his motion has attracted only one signature, his own.

OK, so he is just trying to be witty and there may be a serious point buried in there, except that this solitary stand against a rogue "-ne" suffix has cost the taxpayer £443. That is the figure extrapolated from the estimated annual cost of EDMs of £1m according to the House of Commons library.

The bulk of that cost, about £776,000, comes from having to print and publish them, although I don't know why in this day and age it can't all be done online.

An EDM is one of those tools by which MPs raise matters of national or local concern in the hope of getting them a wider airing. In fact, they rarely achieve anything more than a bit of local press for the MPs who sign them, which is why some refuse to bow to pressure groups who demand their signature. Very few ever lead to a debate (from 1979 to 1994 only four did, but this has picked up to a couple per year if backed by a ton - or tonne - of support).

So, Mr Hemming has cost the taxpayer £443 in making his silly point which no one but he supports and which will not lead to any change. You would have thought that he could have made the same point on Twitter for less money. Still, if it keeps him out of the sack for ten minutes...

The Times, by the way, will be sticking with its style guide which says we should use "tons" only in a historic context (although curiously allows the metaphor "tons of help"...).

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