The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Wednesday 19 April 2017

Election

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May’s day?

While the snap UK general election is likely to be a Tory shoo-in, voter apathy could dampen the prime minister’s party.

On the face of it, Theresa May’s decision to hold a UK general election in seven weeks makes a lot of political sense. She is expected to win by a landslide, giving her a personal mandate based on a manifesto she believes in. But those expectations could cause problems. General elections can be buffeted by surprising events and May has not proved herself to be a nimble political campaigner. If the subject shifts from Brexit she could find the terrain more tricky: the UK is facing a health and social-care crisis, the economy is still not working for enough people and the policies she has promoted, such as the return of grammar schools, have not proved popular. Turnout will also be an issue. This will be the third summer in a row that Britons have been asked to vote on a matter of great importance (the fourth for Scots who had an independence referendum in 2014). If the general sense is that the election is a foregone conclusion, turnout could drop below 60 per cent. May’s victory might not be as impressive as she hopes.

Affairs

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Card game

China aims to woo not just footballers – but it’ll take more than a card to put foreigners at ease.

If Beijing has its way it won’t just be newly signed sports stars moving to China this summer. From July highly skilled foreigners will be able to apply for a rebranded and machine-readable identity card that should make living and working in China simpler. The central government’s charm offensive sounds good on plastic but the reality is often very different. Few foreigners have permanent residency in China and life for the cardless is becoming harder, from strict visa rules and increased censorship to restricted access to mobile payments and ride-sharing. Exhausted business exiles in Hong Kong talk of growing hostility across the border and, for the second year running, Beijing residents have been warned about foreign spies; this year’s appeal on National Security Day offered financial incentives for exposing an undercover mole. As with much about China’s liberalisation project, as one door opens another one closes.

Retail

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Time for a makeover

Debenhams could try to lift sagging profits by boosting beauty counters – or it could go for a radical design overhaul.

Once upon a time England ruled the world of department stores, with iconic London brands such as Harrods feeling like national institutions and selling almost everything imaginable, including lion cubs. Today, however, most UK high streets are less exciting and many famous names have gone bust. One of the nation’s biggest mid-market retail brands, Debenhams, has now announced a major shake-up, hoping to reverse the fortunes of its 144 department stores. But while analysts forecast the company will increase beauty counters, improve e-commerce and add more restaurants, we’d like it to be more daring. Investment in seriously good design, from staff uniforms to retail counters, has worked wonders in Asia for brands including Japan’s Isetan and Thailand’s Siam Discovery. Meanwhile, iconic European brands such as Germany’s Kadewe prove there’s plenty of life left in western department stores if they focus on engaging experiences and smart product selection.

Culture

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Food for thought

Restaurant owner ensures staff English lessons remain on the boil – even when they’re at work.

While front-of-house communication is vital, restaurateur Danny Carabano is focusing on improving dialogue in the kitchen as well. The owner of New York’s Vspot, a vegan restaurant with locations in the East Village, Gramercy and Park Slope, has developed a computer program to teach his largely Spanish-speaking kitchen staff English. Using staff feedback to improve the program, which he calls the Cyrano Language School, Carabano plans to eventually incorporate other languages and offer it to the public. It’s a smart move on Carabano’s part as restaurants are one of the leading employers of immigrants in the US and predominantly Spanish-speaking kitchens are common. With this dedication to teaching English, Carabano’s staff will not only have an easier time navigating their workplace but also an easier time integrating into their new home.

From Monocle 24

Hit the Lights: more from Salone del Mobile 2017

Section D

We round off our coverage of this year’s edition of Salone del Mobile with a look at some of the Milanese design fair’s more conceptual exhibits.

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