Friday. 20/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Robert Bound

Toupee or not toupee?

Yesterday in Westminster pageantry was the order of the day as the Queen performed the ceremonial state opening of parliament, a piece of political theatre at which the monarch sets out the UK government’s plans. It’s a good sort of gaudy: thrones, frock coats, gold braid and sashes, epaulettes and plumes, fluffy ruffs, court shoes, stockings and wigs. And that’s just the men (in fact, it’s mainly the men). Pity the dull accountability of a republic.

But there was one hairpiece less than there should have been. The new speaker of the House of Commons, the vital parliamentary umpire who invites members to speak and propose legislation, couldn’t find his wig – an optional accessory steeped in history. Apparently, the speaker’s rug was last seen 20 years ago (before major refurbishment work at the Palace of Westminster) and has been shunned by a succession of speakers since then. The last incumbent, John Bercow – recently seen shouting his catchphrase, “Ordeeeeeeeer!” on an Italian chat show – opted not to wear the wig, feeling that going without it made parliament appear “marginally less stuffy and forbidding”. By contrast, the new speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, fancied cutting a bit of 18th-century dash – but the cupboard was bare.

During his term, should Sir Lindsay wear a wig? What signals does wig-wearing send out? Can democracy survive? The answers to the above are: a) Yes, definitely; b) Cut-and-dried legal correctitude with a side order of camp and c) We live in fear. For some reason there doesn’t seem to be a backup wig. Democracy really is broken.

Society / Macau

Degrees of autonomy

Today marks 20 years since China reclaimed Macau from the Portuguese, unifying it with the mainland under the constitutional framework of “one country, two systems”. It’s the same agreement as in neighbouring Hong Kong but it is yielding polar-opposite results. Macau’s citizens, a majority of whom are mainland Chinese immigrants, feel a strong sense of national pride, while also enjoying the remnants of Western culture. That pride was on display this week as Chinese president Xi Jinping (pictured) visited the region ahead of the anniversary. “Everyone seems really excited that President Xi is here,” says Inês Almeida of Portuguese-language newspaper Journal Tribuna de Macau. Although critics might consider Macau to be superficial – a place less interested in politics and more driven by its tourism and casino businesses – Almeida says that its people have a different frame of mind. Rather than big-picture protests over democracy, “people fight to solve immediate problems,” such as housing. “Macau and Hong Kong have completely distinct realities,” she says.

Politics / Canada

Taking a stand

Justin Trudeau might have been returned to power by Canada’s electorate this year but the annual crowning of the country’s most notable newsmaker has been more divisive. This week the Canadian Press – Canada’s national newswire – named Jody Wilson-Raybould, the country’s former attorney general, as 2019’s most prominent newsmaker. Her role in the so-called SNC-Lavalin scandal – in which Trudeau was accused of pressuring Wilson-Raybould (pictured, on right, with Trudeau) to sway the legal process in favour of the major Québec-based engineering firm charged with corruption in Libya – made her a heroine to some and a less-saintly figure to others.

The award’s timing is all the more uncomfortable for Trudeau as SNC-Lavalin was found guilty of fraud and fined CA$280m (€192m) this week. It’s unlikely, however, that these developments will come to haunt Trudeau: according to recent polling, most voters are more concerned with how he intends to govern in his second term than they are with the ghosts of his first.

Culture / Croatia

Market value

Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, might not have the grandeur of Vienna or the charm of Munich but it sits at the top of the festive tree when it comes to Christmas markets. In an online poll the Advent in Zagreb fair was voted the best Christmas market in Europe for three years in a row. To give others a chance, the website, europeanbestdestinations.com, decided to suspend it from entering this year’s competition (Budapest claimed the top spot in its absence). Zagreb’s tourist board says that the market attracts hundreds of thousands of people to the city – and any visitors this weekend will be there at the same time as Croatia’s presidential election takes place. Zagreb’s left-leaning mayor, Milan Bandic, has claimed that the market is only possible because of “the openness, multi-ethnicity, multiculturalism and multi-confessionalism” of the city, which might make him the first person in history to attempt to politicise a Christmas market.

Transport / USA

Tunnel vision

Will hyperloops – futuristic pods carrying passengers through sealed tubes – play a role in the cities of the future? An increasing number of US transport authorities seem to think so. Earlier this week, regional officials in Ohio released a feasibility study for a hyperloop train to navigate a 482km route, taking in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Chicago, in as little as 32 minutes. The company behind the project, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, says that it could begin construction in 2023. The estimated cost is at US$40bn (€36bn) but the study predicts that the project will generate US$48bn (€43bn) in income. The problem? There’s not even a working prototype, despite the likes of Elon Musk and Richard Branson trying their best to build one. “[We need] proof of the concept,” says Dr Martin Pietrucha, a civil-engineering professor at Penn State University. “We’ve been after some kind of a pneumatic transportation system for more than 100 years but we’re no further along than we were then.” Mobility is serious business and cities should be wary of carving up their budgets to pursue what could be just a pipe dream.

M24 / The Urbanist

Smart ideas

Technology plays a huge role in our relationship with cities: from simple things such as being able to pay for public transport with your phone to more serious issues such as policing public protests with drones.

Monocle Films / Australia

Dining down under

Australia’s drinking and dining scene is thriving. Monocle Films visits three restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart that share a passion for good food and honest ingredients.

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