Monday, May 15, 2006

Save our Cultural Heritage

Following the refreshing recent public opinion polls supporting Imperial weights and measures in the battle against metrification (see our previous blog Metricators Tamed), we are delighted to draw our readers' attention to an open letter to the Prime Minister published in The Times from several leading backers of the British Weights and Measures Association on 21 April 2006.

The letter refers to the draconian European Union Metric Directive 80/181 which comes into force on 1 January 2010.

Jilly Cooper

The letter is signed by among others Sandy Gall, Antony Worrall Thompson, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Sir Patrick Moore, Jules Holland, Christopher Booker, Professor Richard Holmes, Jilly Cooper and Trevor Bailey.

Further comment is available on the BWMA's own web site

While the authors of the letter make brief and valid comments on the political and economic circumstances surrounding the debate, what particularly matters about this letter is the mention, for the first time to SQA's knowledge except in our own web pages, of the true insidious purpose of metrification. We quote:

So it is not enough that all goods must be weighed and priced in metric measures; in less than four years it will be a criminal offence even to mention imperial measures. This is repression purely for its own sake. It is no more than a malicious attack on our cultural heritage as well as on our democracy.

We take some satisfaction from this mention of cultural heritage in the context of weights and measures coming under attack from the EU, as it stems in part from SQA's direct lobbying of and meeting with journalists and pressure groups including the BWMA on the EU's aim of strangulating British cultural heritage in order to create a unified Europe. Another of our early successes lay in briefing Christopher Booker on the silent metrification of the newer English versions of the Bible (see the 10cm of God in The Sunday Telegraph of 18 April 2004), an example of anachronism if ever there was one.

No-one should be in any doubt as to the EU's threat to the survival of archives which perhaps more than our printed literary heritage safeguard our democracy.

The authors' reference to repression and an attack on our cultural heritage is in part a reference to statements by Cornelis Brekelmans, the European Union's Head of Unit, Enterprise Directorate-General when hosting a delegation from the United States' National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Brussels on 2 March 2005:

The Metric Directive is intended to require metric units of measurement to be used in all aspects of life in the European Union.....The Metric Directive is not a labelling directive; rather it applies to all expressions of measurement units wherever they are used in the European Union.

Furthermore, when questioned by NIST as to whether metric applied to books and magazines, the EU's reply was simply yes.

(The invitation to NIST was a last ditch attempt to undermine transatlantic trade in Imperial between the USA and UK. They failed. By way of background, in 1996 EU Commissioner Bangemann, stated Britain is in an anomalous position, as a full partner in the EU but sharing a common system of weights & measures with the USA, thereby enjoying an unfair competitive advantage in transatlantic trade. We are reminded of James C. Bennett's remarks (click here))

To view the NIST report on the meeting click here

Thus archivists in the UK or anywhere in the EU risk breaking EU law by not describing the dimensions of documents in metric, anachronistically, or even by preserving archives with Imperial intellectual content. Presumably foolscap will be disinvented overnight.

However, opinions as to the reality of the threats to our documentary heritage vary. Even among the appointed guardians of our heritage the political landscape can be interpreted differently. Thus we may compare the BWMA's letter to The Times with another letter to the same newspaper of 3 January 2006, this time by the great and good of British archives and captioned Save our Archives. The signatories include Dr. Peter Anderson, chairman of the Society of Archivists [sic], Dr. Christopher Kitching of the Royal Historical Society, Dr. David Robinson, chairman of the British Records Association and Jonathan Pepler, county archivist of Cheshire. Here the emphasis is rather different.

......the archive sector must focus on such areas as online access and engaging new audiences, such as minority ethnic groups and those under 24.

Powerful stuff indeed. (The letter has also been published on the National Council on Archives' web site.)

We asked our outspoken Ellison Millinocket to offer a few comments on the second letter.

Bollocks. Who do they think they are kidding? We have a population that is 90% indigenous and ageing. And what exactly do you do with a searchroom full of Gypsies, Kosovars, Albanians, Nigerians and Poles all under the age of 24? And in the meantime what do we do with our existing customers, tell them to go away? According to MigrationWatch, who are always right, we can expect 300,000 Bulgarians and Romanians after January 2007. Is Jonathan Pepler [county archivist of Cheshire, ed.] volunteering to set up an encampment outside Cheshire Record Office?

We should all realise the need to cater for asylum seekers and ethnic minorities is unnecessary in a democratic context and that it is in any case part and parcel of the same politically correct campaign to disinvent our national identity.

We thanked Ellison for his insights.

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