This Weekend Could Be the Last Time the Clocks Go Back

"Permanent winter" is coming, maybe.
October 23, 2020, 1:15pm
abolish daylight savings
RIP to winter time, potentially. Photo: Bob Foster

A campaign for ‘permanent British summer time’ sounds great: sunshine, good vibes, festivals, swaggering the streets at night in a t-shirt, bantering with your mates in a beer garden while supping from a delicious, ice-cold glass of craft lager… all year long. It’s hard to see the downside. Where do we sign up? The only people who prefer autumn/winter are the kind of annoying, self-identified introverts who claim that “curling up under the covers with a peppermint tea and a page-turner” is “one of life’s great pleasures”. For everyone else, permanent summer time is the way to go.

But imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the ‘permanent summertime’ campaign is not, in fact, about abolishing winter. It is instead is focused on making Daylight Savings Time (which we currently have from March to October) permanent, meaning darker mornings but lighter evenings and no more clock changes. This could become a reality very soon. In fact, when the clocks go forward this Sunday, this could be one of the last times it ever happens.

From 2021, member states of the EU will face a choice between permanent summer or winter time—either way, the custom of twice-yearly changing the clocks is going to end. The UK will no longer be part of the EU by the time this comes to pass so we won’t technically be bound by this legislation. But experts agree it’s pretty likely we will follow suit. If not, we could see the bizarre situation of Belfast and Dublin being in different time zones, despite being a two hour drive away from each other.

The debate over whether to abolish the clock changes, and what time-zone we should stick with, has proven surprisingly heated. For some people, Daylight Savings represents a profound evil. An American man called Michael Downing has written a book titled Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time which decries “the loopy idea that became the most persistent political controversy in American history”. Here in the UK, meanwhile, we have Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, who for years has been waging a bitter, one-man war against the scourge that is Daylight Savings.

If there’s one thing that’s certain in the UK, it’s that any topic, no matter how banal, can become a battlefront in the culture war. Hitchens has suggested that Daylight Savings is a kind of metropolitan decadence, to be filed alongside quinoa and Fleabag, favoured by layabout Islington elites. “So-called Permanent Summer Time has lots of support among media types and politicians,” he wrote. “And I will tell you why. Most such people never see the dawn. They have no idea whether it is light or dark before about 10 in the morning, or that this changes with the seasons.”

In an earlier 2015 piece for the Mail, Hitchens raged: “Tomorrow morning, all official time sources from Big Ben to the BBC will be lying about the time, and if you have any sense, all the myriad clocks in your home will be lying too…” But he finds himself in the minority. According to a YouGov poll, 59% of Britons would prefer to have permanent summer time. Only 22% would prefer to fix the clocks to winter time. Better luck next time, Mr Hitchens! If only his other terrible views, such as ‘immigration is bad’, were quite so unpopular amongst the British public.

Proponents of switching to permanent summer time argue that it would have significant benefits for people’s mental health and the economy, as well as making people safer. A spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) told VICE over email: “RoSPA has campaigned against the unnecessary clock change for many years, and is calling on the Government to instead keep British Summer Time all year round. This will mean that we avoid the sudden spike in pedestrian casualties, and that we will all be able to enjoy more usable, evening daylight for more of the year, spending time and money doing the things we love.”

The case for sticking to summer time hours is particularly persuasive in the context of the COVID pandemic, as we are heading towards what looks set to be an unimaginably bleak winter. A recent petition has been launched to stop the clocks going forward this year specifically, on the basis that ‘no-one wants another hour of 2020’.

RoSPA agree that the pandemic makes the case even more compelling: “It is particularly important as the UK seeks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, to aid the economy and job market within sectors such as hospitality and leisure. It would also help to tackle the loneliness and depression that many are feeling due to lockdown and other restrictions, as there will be more daylight during waking hours, thus helping us to socialise – in line with current coronavirus measures - more easily.” Ultimately, there’s a limited amount of daylight hours in winter whatever you do and whether you find dark mornings or dark evenings more depressing is subjective. But the YouGov poll would suggest the latter view is more popular.

It’s almost certain that we will do away with the clock changes, but it’s as yet still unclear what time-zone we will decide to stick with. That said, a House of Lords of commission published earlier this year concluded “We received no compelling evidence to suggest that the current system of seasonal changes does not work well for the UK” and that “Although there is significant strength of public feeling in favour of abolishing seasonal changes of time, there is little evidence that doing so would lead to a material improvement over the status quo". It also, said, however, that further research on the pros and cons was needed.

One of the main reasons we have daylight savings time in the UK is because Coldplay frontman’s Chris Martin property developer great-great-grandfather wanted people to get out of bed earlier (I guess being obsessed with “Clocks” runs in the family! Ha ha). He wrote about it in a pamphlet titled ‘The Waste of Daylight’, although it wasn’t adopted until the First World War, when Germany did it first and we copied them.