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Berlin Time

You might have heard of a campaign to move the UK onto the same timezone as Central Europe. There are a number of groups campaigning for this (see, for example, Lighter Later) and the proposals are going to be discussed in parliament on December 3rd.

Now, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings either way about this, but the arguments about saving a lot of energy by changing the time seem pretty persuasive to me. Of course, not everyone is as ambivalent as I am and today the Mail on Sunday publishes an article by Peter Hitchens called “Don’t let them force you to live your life on Berlin Time”. The title makes it quite clear the direction that the article is going to take, but it’s astonishing just how ridiculous the article is. The blatant xenophobia is amazing.

But it is easy to see that since 1893, when Kaiser Wilhelm II’s arrogant and expansionist new German Empire adopted Mitteleuropaische Zeit (Central European Time to you), German power has been forcing its ideas of time on the rest of the Continent. First in 1914, and with redoubled force after 1940, the conquered nations of the Continent were instructed rather sharply to shift their clocks forward to suit the needs of German soldiers and German railways and German business.

A map of the present Central European Time Zone looks disturbingly like a map of a certain best-forgotten empire of 70 years ago. Would it really be silly to suspect that the neatness and standardisation fanatics of Brussels and Frankfurt, who have abolished almost every border in Europe, devised the European arrest warrant and the Euro passport and the European number plate and the European flag – and imposed a single currency on almost every state – would not also like a single time zone?

In a particularly nice touch, there’s a black and white picture of someone adjusting a public clock with the caption “Forced change: The Nazis made occupied nations adopt German time”.

Now, there may be good reasons to object to this change but if there are, Hitchens seems to have missed them completely. Bringing the argument down to this disgusting “who won the war, anyway?” level is surely a tacit admission that Hitchens has no reasonable arguments against the proposals.

Hitchens does, at least, mention the benefits that supporters of the change expect to see, but he decides that “many of these claims are pretty much guesswork”. To back this up he points out that:

Shifting the clocks about changes less than you might think. The amount of actual daylight remains the same. It is just available at different times of day.

This is, of course, indisputable. But what Hitchens forgets to mention is that supporters of the changes know this. It’s the redistribution of the daylight hours which brings the benefits, not some (scientifically improbable) lengthening of the day. It’s a straw man of the most obvious kind.

The most offensive part of the article is the way that Hitchens seamlessly merges the EU with the Third Reich. He ends with this chilling warning:

If we are foolish enough to hurry down this path, it is by no means certain that we shall ever be allowed back if we decide we do not like it. Once we have fallen in, who would be surprised by a quiet Brussels Directive making the change permanent, whatever Parliament does? Now is the time to save our own time.

I’m all in favour of a debate about these changes. No-one would suggest making a change of this size without a full discussion taking place first. But surely those opposing the changes can find better arguments than this poisonous nonsense.

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