Seán Moncrieff: Daylight saving survives because we can’t be arsed to change it

If the effort required exceeds the degree of the problem being caused, we conclude: Nah

Last spring, Daughter Number Four had a problem with going to bed. The procedure hadn’t changed: PJs, teeth, stalling, a bit of a chat with puppet Gruffalo, I’m thirsty, and then a story which is regularly critiqued by her, her stuffed rabbit and her security blanket. The blanket can be quite nasty.

What perplexed her was, while we insisted that bedtime was the same time every evening, it suddenly didn’t look that way. It looked like the middle of the afternoon. Summer was coming. The days were lengthening.

Explaining the tilt of Earth relative to the sun to a suspicious five-year-old is tricky, and I don’t really understand it anyway, so I opted instead to (incorrectly) blame the brighter evenings on the fact that we had just moved the clocks forward. She more or less understood this – and thought it was stupid.

More than two years ago, the European Parliament voted to scrap daylight saving. But an MEP vote is the political equivalent of shouting 'someone should do something'

She could be right. You may think you’re reading this at, say, 12.42pm, but because we are still in GMT+1, you’re actually reading it at 11.42am. If you get a mad fit to stay up until 2am on Monday morning to watch the next episode of Succession, you’ll actually be watching it at 1am. Because the clocks go back.

This tiny fact will probably have no effect on the quality of your day, other than to make you briefly wonder why we continue with moving time. As far as I can ascertain, this is to do with the Balance of Arsery: a mental calculation we all regularly make. We see something that requires fixing. But before we act, we estimate how much of a problem this broken thing is causing. We compare this to the amount of effort fixing it will require. If the effort required exceeds the degree of the problem being caused, we conclude: nah. Couldn’t be arsed.

This, in broad terms, is why we continue with daylight saving.

A New Zealander named George Hudson proposed it in 1895, because it would give him more time for insect collecting in the evenings. Hudson's argument was not particularly compelling, but two World Wars and the 1970s energy crisis brought many countries to adopt the measure. Pushing the hour back and forth helped save on energy consumption.

But since then, we haven’t really needed it. The health, economic and safety effects are negligible. Surveys on daylight saving time find a majority in favour of scrapping it, but continually fail to find a strong feeling either way. It seems silly, but you know, I’m buying shoes.

Perhaps it's a flaw of government, or a flaw in human nature that we seem unable to concentrate on more than one or two problems at a time

More than two years ago, the European Parliament voted to scrap daylight saving. The time switch last spring was supposed to be the last. But an MEP vote is the political equivalent of shouting "someone should do something". It was up to the commission and member countries to progress the proposal. Nothing happened. You know, couldn't be arsed.

That is, apart from one Government: ours. When the European vote happened, there was much harrumphing from Tory MPs that Johnny Foreigner wasn't going to dictate to Westminster how to wind their clocks. This was during the Brexit "negotiations" so feelings were a bit heightened. British resistance conjured a Puckoon-type scenario of different time zones on each side of the Border. Parts of the North that still operate like they are in the 1600s would actually be an hour ahead of the Republic.

The prospect of Schrödinger’s loyalists was too much for our Government, so they put the foot down and did nothing. Everyone else went along. Brexit was more important, and then there was the pandemic.

But when it comes to a relatively minor issue like daylight saving, there will always be something more important. Perhaps it’s a flaw of government, or a flaw in human nature that we seem unable to concentrate on more than one or two problems at a time. Many things get overlooked. People get distracted, or say: it’s not the right time. Because of daylight saving, that’s true for half the year.