Wednesday. 25/9/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

When Brexit went ballistic

In his first two months in power, the UK prime minister has lost his first six votes in the House of Commons, broken the law in suspending parliament and misled the monarch. It’s quite a track record. Despite the Queen’s catchy old name, “sovereign”, parliament is sovereign in fact and yesterday morning, as thunder crashed over London, the maximum number of 11 justices of the UK’s Supreme Court unanimously found parliament not to have been prorogued legally (in fact, not prorogued at all). MPs have effectively been ordered back to Westminster; good news for those who want to debate with the government, bad news for the government. Standing on a damp London street, the speaker of the House of Commons said that “there will be full scope for urgent questions, for ministerial statements and for applications for emergency debates”.

Boris Johnson is flying back from New York to face the music, which will likely sound like Bernard Hermann’s strings for Psycho. But who will be stabbed in the shower scene? On Monocle 24’s The Briefing yesterday, political journalist Carole Walker said, “Advisers such as Dominic Cummings are likely to advise Johnson to put on a show of force and try to bluster his way out. [But] some of the more senior servants may well be saying, ‘Look, this is the time to think again.’”

Johnson has been asked if he’ll resign and he surely won’t. He has previously asked for a general election but, for the time being, the opposition Labour party will not agree to one. It is likely that his chief adviser, Cummings, urged him toward this “do or die” politicking. If Johnson is wise he will encourage that Primark Machiavelli to fall on his sword, praying that it is dead sharp.

Fancy that, Brexiters: a sovereign UK court making a decision you don’t like. Ah, remember the good old European Court of Justice?

Politics / Spain

Reopening old wounds

The remains of Spain’s former dictator, Francisco Franco, are set to be exhumed from a state mausoleum – one of the last of its kind in Europe – and moved to a cemetery where his wife is buried. The country’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Socialist government’s plans yesterday, despite an appeal from Franco’s family. The monument is a particularly vexatious site in Spain: Franco enlisted 20,000 labourers to build Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) in the Guadarrama Valley, which is also the site of Spain’s largest mass grave, where more than 33,000 victims of its civil war are buried. Exhuming Franco’s remains is sure to reopen debate about the dictator’s legacy; some in Spain disagree with the government and bullishly defend his actions. Rather than revising history, it is perhaps better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Urbanism / Vietnam

Fresh thinking

The Ministry of Construction in Ho Chi Minh City is branching out. The fast-growing Vietnamese capital is being subjected to a survey of its arboreal inhabitants – about 160,000 trees from 180 species – ahead of a planting drive.

The research attempts to find the species best placed to thrive in a changing cityscape where skyscrapers can crowd out sunlight and crimp growing space, and pollution affects soil quality. If it’s done well the scheme will be able to root out a few urban blights too: if the agency decides to plant mature trees it would create shade for pedestrians, mop up some air pollution and potentially even keep the squadrons of unruly motorcyclists off the pavements.

Urbanism / Netherlands

Last-ditch effort

Beneath the streets of many European cities are canals that were paved over in the 20th century. The Hague, in the Netherlands, suffered just this fate and lost large chunks of its 17th-century network of waterways that once bustled with trade. But now Dutch architecture firm MVRDV has submitted a proposal to the town hall to not only reopen the existing canals but also create new ones. More than just brightening up the cityscape, the scheme includes plans for swimming pools, surfing spots (similar to the Eisbach in Münich) and waterside shops and restaurants to drive footfall. A similar project in Milan, which saw the reopening of the Darsena basin (pictured) in 2015, revitalised the area and give the riverless Italian city a trickle of new life.

Sport / Japan

Hungry for more

Japan left nothing to chance in the years of meticulous preparation that went into hosting the Rugby World Cup: the transport is punctual, the pitches immaculate and the welcome enthusiastic. But one small matter was overlooked: the outsized appetite of the average rugby fan. A week into the competition, the only glitch is that fans have not been able to get enough grub in the stadiums: queues have been lengthy and food has sold out before the final whistle. After conceding that the refreshments in some venues might not be befitting that of a showpiece event, organisers will allow fans to bring “a reasonable amount of food” into venues. In case any enterprising fans are thinking about making a quick yen on the side by selling food to ravenous fans, supplies brought into the ground must only be for personal consumption.

M24 / Monocle on Design

London Design Festival

We bring you the best from London Design Festival, including interviews with festival director Ben Evans, experimental designer Marlène Huissoud and Sir Ian Blatchford of the Science Museum, Italian furniture master Patrizia Moroso and sculpture designer Liz West. Plus Paul Cocksedge explains how he made his standout “Please Be Seated” installation.

Monocle Films / Zürich

My life as a tram

Loved by its loyal passengers, Zürich’s trams are not only punctual but also contribute to the city’s identity. Hop on board as we introduce you to the fleet that makes this Swiss city tick.

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