A.R.M. Campaigns – Past and Present
Victory for A.R.M. – How The Mile Was Saved
Article added 16 January 2016
In the 1980s, the government began planning to alter some 2 million road and footpath signs from familiar miles and yards into metric. By the year 2000, the government was planning for this change to take place in just a few years time. In fact, so close were they to implementing this change, that some local councils – in anticipation of the change – were already erecting road signs in metres. As it turned out, A.R.M. discovered that those metric signs were illegal.
In February 2006, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, announced on B.B.C.’s Question Time that the government had decided to completely abandon their plans to metricate our road signs. That meant 20 years of careful government planning for this change to metric had been utterly wasted. This article tells the story of how A.R.M.’s campaign forced this historic change.
The idea of forming an organisation to oppose the proposed metrication of signs on our roads and footpaths took place at a garden party in 1999 (in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire) to celebrate the historic election, for the first time, of three UKIP M.E.P.’s to the European Parliament.
At that garden party A.R.M. chairman Derek Norman and A.R.M. secretary Tony Bennett first discussed the importance of maintaining our traditional system of weights and measures. The two of them then cooperated with many others in a memorable campaign of opposition to the government having made it a criminal offence to sell goods in pounds and ounces.
It was in April 2001 that Derek and Tony, together with a few other committed activists met to discuss how to defeat the government’s metrication plans.
A new organisation – Active Resistance to Metrication (A.R.M.) – was established to form the spearhead of an active campaign of direct action, designed – in the first instance – to force councils to remove any illegal metric signs they had already erected. A.R.M. is a membership organisation which members of the public can join. It is run by committee and has a bank account.
The direct action campaign began in earnest on Friday 18 June 2001 in Northampton.
A.R.M. had written to Northampton council demanding the immediate removal of two dozen illegal metric signs giving distances to road humps in yards. Northampton council refused.
Dressed in what became A.R.M.’s traditional “uniform” of yellow hi-visibility jackets Derek and Tony, using no more than a ladder and a spanner, removed the signs, placing them in a roadside ditch several miles from the town. On the Monday afterwards, A.R.M. contacted the press and the council, informing them of the location of the missing signs. The press ran a bold headline: “UKIP Activists Get The Hump Over Road Signs”.
Northampton council admitted their signs were unlawful. And so A.R.M.’s campaign was well and truly “On The Road”.
This successful direct action operation was followed by dozens of other similar raids, many of which you can see more about elsewhere on our website.
A Judge’s ruling The turning point in A.R.M.’s campaign occurred during 2002. In the spring of that year, A.R.M. was informed of illegal metric road signs being erected across Kent by Transco, who were laying a gas pipeline in the area. When Transco wouldn’t remove them, Tony Bennett removed them all – some 40 altogether – placing them in a hollow deep in the Kent woodlands. He was spotted by a Transco worker. Days later a dawn raid at Tony’s house saw Tony arrested and detained in the cells at Harlow police station. Certain equipment was removed from his home. He was charged with two offences: theft and criminal damage.
He was found guilty by Maidstone Magistrates Court on both counts. He was ordered to perform 50 hours of community payback on each charge. He appealed to Maidstone Crown Court. His appeal was heard by two Crown Court Judges and two Magistrates. During the appeal it was quite clear that the metric signs erected by Transco were unlawful.
A Transco worker gave evidence at the trial. He was asked: “Who put up these metric signs?” He replied: “I did”.
The Judge told him: “In future all road signs should indicate distance in miles and yards”.
Tony was acquitted on the theft charge and was given an Absolute Discharge on the criminal damage charge. He was not fined nor ordered to pay any costs.
The case was widely reported on local and national media. The government was forced to react. Later in 2002, they issued a Department of Transport circular to all councils in the United Kingdom telling them that road and footpath signs must be in miles, yards, feet and inches. The result was that councils ceased erecting metric distance signs. A.R.M. spent the next three years amending any remaining road and footpath signs still left – see our Gazetteer for a full list.
A twist of fate led to the collapse of the government’s plans to metricate our road signs. At the beginning of 2006, France was widely tipped to win the bid for the 2012 Olympics. Due to a brilliant campaign led by Lord Coe, London was chosen ahead of Paris by a narrow margin.
Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, a strong advocate of all things European, then made a comment which was widely ridiculed. He said: “If the UK doesn’t complete the change to metric by the time we hold the Olympics, the world will look upon us as a backward nation”. The press and media conducted several opinion polls which showed absolutely overwhelming support for keeping miles and yards on our road signs.
The following week, B.B.C.’s Question Time featured 5 panelists including UKIP leader, Nigel Farage M.E.P. and Transport Secretary Alistair Darling. One of the questions fielded by the panel was: “Is Neil Kinnock right or wrong to call for Britain’s road signs to be metricated?” All of them opposed Neil Kinnock’s laughable comment.
One of the panellists to speak was Mr Darling. Speaking of the government’s metrication plans, he told the Milton Keynes audience: “We’re not going to do it”. You can hear how the audience reacted to this momentous announcement on this YouTube video
Taking our campaign to Parliament
It was inevitable that at some stage A.R.M. would take its campaign to the House of Commons.
Here are A.R.M. Chairman Derek Norman and Secretary Tony Bennett pictured at the gates of the House of Commons, having accomplished one of their most risky enterprises – altering distance signs from metres into yards:
Current direct action campaigns
Updated 9 November 2015
A.R.M. is currently engaged on a programme of amending some of the few metric distance signs left on Britain’s roads and footpaths.
Our most recent amendment was of a distance sign on a road in north Harlow on the Essex-Hertfordshire border. A metric distance sign reading ‘150 metres’ was altered to read ‘170 yds’.
We have had a number of reports from around the country of illegal footpath signs in particular. As we amend the signs, always using professional-quality signage, we will update you here with a series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs.
From the Council of Active Resistance to Metrication