The British people rose almost as one today to save the pound sterling, not from the mighty dollar but from a coin that the government has just decreed will replace the scruffy but beloved one-pound note beginning in January.
However, among those who did not rise to defend the venerable one-pound note -- roughly equivalent to a U.S. dollar bill, but worth about $1.25 these days -- were Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Lawson announced the decision yesterday, saying use of the long-lasting coins would save the treasury about $3.75 million a year in printing and replacement costs. Today, Thatcher reaffirmed the decision in the face of withering attacks from all parties in Parliament and the wrath of shoppers, shopkeepers and newspapers around the country.
The one-pound coin has been in circulation for about 18 months. But with the exception of bankers and bank tellers, who find it easier to count and sort than the crumbled one-pound notes, most Britishers view the coin as "the most unpopular money that any government has ever produced," as Labor Member of Parliament Greville Janner put it today.
"The chancellor has made an idiotic decision which will replace a much-loved note with a despised coin," Janner said. Conservative Member of Parliament Brandon Rhys called the coin "a horrid little button."
Another Conservative, Peter Bruindels, summoned the rhetoric of resolve that has seen this nation through many ordeals when he pledged, "We shall battle on until we have convinced the chancellor of the error of his ways in promoting this universally detested coin."
The coins are widely unpopular because they can be confused with other less valuable coins and because they are heavy and add to the already considerable weight of a pocketful of change.
Besides, many people say, the note just feels like more money.