it is all the more baffling that we do not make the obvious move and reverse yesterday’s ludicrous clock-change so as to increase the quantity of joyous sunlight that is available to us all
lighter evenings would save lives, save CO2, save money, generate jobs and growth
Just when you think the world can’t get any madder, along comes dear old Hattie Harman and takes the biscuit. At last the bossyboots Paulina has decided to pick on someone her own size — herself!
She made some harmless gag about Danny Alexander and a squirrel, and then decided a few hours later that it was politically incorrect. It was offensive. It was wrong, she wailed. She should never have called the Chief Secretary to the Treasury a “ginger rodent”, she said. She was going to get behind herself and give herself a metaphorical kick in the pants, and she was issuing a fulsome apology to all rodents, anyone with ginger hair and, above all, to the Scots. “Eh?” you might say. Well, it turns out that Hattie believed she might have insulted not just squirrels and the Chief Secretary but also the entire Scottish population, since a lot of Scottish people have red hair — and that set me brooding. Palefaces like me and Danny Alexander may occasionally receive colourist insults (someone, I can’t think why, once called me a “disfigured albino gorilla”), but there is a sound biological reason for our pallor.
Aeons ago, our species migrated from Africa to the lush pastures of northern Europe, and the only drawback we found was that with much less sunlight it was less easy for our skins to manufacture vitamin D. So we fell victim to rickets and brittle bones and general gloom until… ping! some ancestor of me, Danny Alexander, Simon Heffer and Nicole Kidman (what a thought, eh?) had a random genetic mutation. This gave him or her a paler skin and a greater ability to manufacture vitamin D from the limited quantities of sunlight available, and it seems so far to be a modest evolutionary success.
And yet we cannot pretend that we have cracked the problem entirely. Vitamin D deficiency still afflicts about half the UK population, and is a serious problem in all north European countries, not least Scotland. The deficiency particularly affects pregnant women, young children and anyone prone to osteoporosis.
So it is all the more baffling that we do not make the obvious move and reverse yesterday’s ludicrous clock-change so as to increase the quantity of joyous sunlight that is available to us all. Everybody from the Police Federation to Age Concern to the British Chambers of Commerce and Industry now supports the campaign to keep our evenings lighter.
I am in favour not just for narrow personal reasons, compelling though these are: I greatly prefer an early morning run in the darkness, so as to minimise the jeers and catcalls that normally accompany this ritual; and on the whole, I think winter would be more bearable if it got dark at teatime rather than just after lunch. Nor do I support the change to lighter evenings for the parochial reason that it would be better for London — though that is overwhelmingly true.
Far from increasing road crashes, the evidence is that we would reduce the number of killed and seriously injured by 20 per year, with a financial saving of £14 million. We would reduce energy consumption and CO2 needed to light our homes in the unnaturally early dusk — saving £20 million. It is likely that we would reduce crime, since there are three times as many assaults between 7pm and 11pm as there are between 7am and 11am, and lighter streets would certainly feel safer.
We would give a huge boost to the London tourist industry, since we would be able to keep our sites and attractions open for an hour longer in the evening, when tourists tend to be out and about, with overall benefits of up to £720 million in London alone.
But the main reason for supporting lighter evenings is that the benefits would be demonstrably spread throughout the UK. Of the 80,000 jobs we would generate in tourism, 7,000 would be in Scotland — and, yes, I believe the change is best for Scotland, too. Contrary to widespread superstition, darker mornings and lighter evenings would reduce Scottish road accidents, since most of them take place during the evening rush hour rather than in the morning – with a financial saving worth about £8 million. The difficulties for farmers have been much exaggerated, given the changes we have seen to agricultural methods, and I have never seen a cow that could read a watch.
Longer evenings would give those Scots in nine-to-five employment a yearly total of almost 300 extra hours of daylight. As for Scottish children, I suppose they would still have to switch on the light to get up in the morning. But each one would have an annual increase of about 200 daylight hours in the afternoon, with about half of these falling on school days. Up and down the country, from London to Aberdeen, children would have more time after school to exercise, to play football and generally to enjoy themselves outside rather than sitting inside with the Xbox, getting ever more obese.
One final point: we would be in the same time zone as Brussels, so that we could no longer be ruthlessly ganged up on by our continental friends and partners. No wonder we have just found it impossible to stop this insane expansion of the EU budget. No wonder we have been strong-armed into spending ever more on the whole lunatic waltz of officials and MEPs from Brussels to Luxembourg and Strasbourg, and no wonder we are spending zillions more on Baroness Ashton and her mysterious army of EU ambassadors — our continental counterparts have eaten their continental breakfasts and have been plotting and scheming to get their hands on UK taxpayers’ money for an hour before we even get into the office. Go to the London website, where you will see an excellent and detailed case, and a brilliant exposition of the Scottish argument by Dr Mayer Hillman of Westminster University.
But take it from me that lighter evenings would save lives, save CO2, save money, generate jobs and growth and give us all, ginger or otherwise, a little bit more of the sunlight we need in the hours we are likely to need it.