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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Tuesday 4 December 2018

Diplomacy

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Open secret

In a rare speech, the MI6 chief calls for a renewed effort to combat threats from enemies and warns Russia to back off.

Though chiefs of national intelligence agencies are typically reticent, Alex Younger, the head of the UK’s MI6, gave a rare and forthright speech yesterday that expressly denounced Russia’s malicious intelligence interferences in the UK and, effectively, told Moscow to cease and desist – or else. Speaking at the University of St Andrews, his alma mater, C (his code name) cited the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the cathedral city of Salisbury in March, and warned that, “Whatever benefits [Russia] thinks it is accruing from this activity, they are not worth the risk.” Such threats expressed by a politician would fall flat but Younger’s extraordinary candidness signals serious intent. “The thrust of the speech is that the UK is not going to back down,” says Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Rusi international-affairs think-tank in London. “Things are pretty catastrophic between the UK and Russia at the moment.”

Economy

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Shaky ground

As Qatar withdraws from Opec to focus on natural gas, the oil cartel’s future is all but certain.

The fallout from Qatar’s announcement yesterday that it is leaving Opec will continue to reverberate at the oil group’s final annual meeting on Thursday. The world’s 11th biggest oil producer said it wants to focus on natural-gas production and denied its decision was anything to do with the Saudi-led land, air and maritime blockade, which has been in place since June 2017. Yet it’s a clear sign that the Gulf bullying campaign has failed, coming at a time when Riyadh has never looked weaker following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October. Qatar’s latest manoeuvre doesn’t bode well for international oil markets either; seeing as it’s free to do what it wants from 1 January, an agreement on production cuts this week, amid falling oil prices, now seems unlikely.

Retail

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Goody bags

Australia is well on its way to binning its single-use plastic bags – the rest of us should follow suit.

Australia’s ambitious plan to slash the use of 1.5 billion plastic bags within six months appears closer to being realised. The decision in July by the country’s two leading supermarket groups – Coles and Woolworths – to remove single-use shopping bags from their shops has yielded dramatic results, according to new figures. Use of plastic bags nationally has dropped 80 per cent since the supermarkets’ edict came into force. However, there is opposition: some shoppers in New South Wales have reportedly vented their anger towards shop staff when asked to switch to reusable bags. Despite these frustrations, other countries should replicate Australia’s efforts.

Technology

Image: Brett Neilson

Turning the page

Japan’s groundbreaking text-messaging gadget will sound its final ‘beep’ next year.

It’s the end of an era for poke-beru (pocket bell), Japan’s prototype text-messaging service, which will be discontinued next year. Launched in the 1960s, pagers alert the recipient with a simple beep and display a telephone number on a screen, prompting a trip to the nearest telephone. Subsequent upgrades that allowed short text messaging and simple emoji functions made poke-beru pagers the “it” gadget for young people. At its peak in 1996, poke-beru boasted 10 million users; now there are 1,500, many working in hospitals. Tokyo Telemessage, the last poke-beru provider, announced yesterday that the service will end next September. Although pagers seem antiquated, the system is still more reliable than the average mobile-phone network: instant delivery, no blackspots and no overloads. We might yet be sorry to lose them. Sayonara.

From Monocle 24

Commercial Christmas

The Monocle Culture Show

With the annual battle for the best Christmas advert well underway we take a look at this year’s offerings and work out where festive TV commercials can go next. Robert Bound is joined by Toby Earle and Scott Bryan. Plus: what are Christmas ads like elsewhere in the world? We put the question to the Monocle team.

From Monocle Films

São Paulo: building better cities

Brazil’s business capital has reinvented its city centre through clever urbanism. We meet the architects, gallery owners and transport visionaries powering this change.

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