We must reform the calendar

Alan Davison MP reveals the latest ministerial initiative: a radical new way of reckoning time

New Labour, in the words of the Demos director Tom Bentley, was founded on aligning progressive values with the forces of modernity. To that end, we must always be forging new ways forward, finding holistic solutions to societal problems, privileging a transnational and collaborative future over an inward-looking and fragmented past.

We must therefore be proactive on the most deeply embedded social and cultural phenomena. Joined-up government concerns itself with core values. In reorientating debate, we must consider the efficacy and legitimacy of the calendar.

The sustainability of the calendar is taken for granted in public discourse. But a calendar of 12 months, with varying numbers of days, may not be appropriate for contemporary organisational life.

The calendar as presently laid down is not natural, but nor is it logical. It is not underpinned by the lunar cycle and it has no basis in structured mathematics. It has no connexity. The waste of resources entailed in remembering whether it is September or October that has 30 days or whether Christmas Day this year falls on a Tuesday or a Wednesday leads to institutional and personal inertia. Reform would be inclusive and empowering, as well as economically and socially dynamic. The productive resources devoted to changing diaries and calendars each year must be of concern to a prudent government. Also of concern must be the Euro- centric nature of the current calendar, in which insufficient account is taken of Chinese, Jewish and Muslim cultures, creating dislocation and disaggregation on an international scale. Our calendar is shaped by popes and Roman emperors, advised by premodern astronomers: all dead, all white, all male.

The Cabinet Office Empowerment Unit has therefore taken a purposeful approach, bringing together an interdepartmental calendrical and temporal task force to consider the options. Foremost is a proposal to divide the year into 13 months of equal length. If the present structure of days, weeks and months were not reconfigured, this would give us invariant months of 28 days or four weeks, with days (Tuesday, Wednesday, etc) falling on the same date numbers (2nd, 17th, etc) each month. So, if 1 January were to be concretised as a Monday, 1 February would also be a Monday, as would 1 March, etc. It can be calculated that this gives a rational framework for 364 days in a year. To achieve viability, a New Year Day, with no date number or day of the week, would exist autonomously between Sunday 31 December and Monday 1 January. Where appropriate, Leap Year Day would form another autonomous unit.

Within this new paradigm, the months would require a contemporary identity. The task force - rejecting the masculine hierarchical power structures that named August after Augustus Caesar and July after Julius Caesar - is studying proposals for a nomenclature that comprises 13 months: Astarte, Bast, Cybele, Diana, Eris, Freya, Gaia, Hathor, Isis, Juno, Kali, Lakshmi, Maat. A radically multicultural and feminine calendar would thus be instituted, using the names of four Egyptian goddesses, two Greek, two Roman, two Hindu, one Canaanite, one Phrygian and one Norse.

An ongoing dialogue with our EU partners is needed for implementation. Britain should be in the vanguard of modernisation and not left behind, as we were with the Gregorian calendar, adopted here in 1752, up to 170 years after the rest of Europe.

But the task force, advised by those at the cutting edge of our information-intensive society, will evaluate myriad options. Why, at the start of a progressive century, are so many temporal resources still deployed according to an irrational methodology: Anglo-Babylonian time, again recalling defunct empires? In an integrated, interlinked era of globalisation, we shall consult widely on the introduction of a metric time system (originally proposed after the French revolution). The basic unit of calculation would, as now, be the day, as the rotation of the earth is not susceptible to intervention. There would then be ten metric hours (or decidays) in a day, 100 metric minutes (or millidays) in an hour, 100 metric seconds (or microdays) in a minute. A week (or dekade) would comprise ten metric days. We have been advised by business that the longer hour and week would lead to quantifiable gains in efficiency and productivity. A time tsar has been appointed to liaise with interested parties.

"For all time; for all peoples" is how the system of metric time can be described (see zapatopi.net/metrictime.html). This is an appropriate and challenging slogan for further forward movement.

Alan Davison is a new Labour minister. This article is based on his pamphlet Time for a Change, published by the Centre for Integrated Third Way Studies on 1 April

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