Thursday 6 February 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 6/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Bold ambition

Many US political pundits were in uproar late on Monday night – not only as a result of the chaos wrought by glitchy software that thwarted the Iowa caucus but also because one of the candidates had the audacity to effectively declare victory before any results had been released. “Iowa, you have shocked the nation,” said Pete Buttigieg (pictured) to his jubilant supporters at a university sports hall in Des Moines.

Buttigieg’s speech was a gamble but not a blind one. For the former mayor of the small midwestern city of South Bend it was a calculation based on his campaign’s internal data, which suggested that he had won. And the results that have continued to trickle in from Iowa in the days since suggest that Mayor Pete – the first openly gay candidate from a major party to run for president – has indeed come out on top. Though he only beat Bernie Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont, by a narrow margin, he was clearly ahead of an opponent who occupies the centre-ground, Joe Biden (who appears to have come fourth).

It is a significant moment in the campaign, both for a politician who was largely unknown a year ago and also for a gay man whose credibility and viability as a presidential candidate are growing. “I’m not surprised at all,” one voter told me amid the hubbub of rival a caucus-night party for Elizabeth Warren, who came third. “People are tired. They know Biden too well. Pete represents something else.”

Buttigieg’s Iowa performance hardly guarantees him the nomination but it could signal a shift among Democratic voters. If Biden fails to impress in next week’s New Hampshire primary, voters sceptical of the hard left (embodied by Sanders and Warren) might start seeking a centrist alternative. That figure could be Buttigieg or, if Mayor Pete begins to stumble, Mike Bloomberg – the former mayor of New York has staked his claim on next month’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Image: Shutterstock

Health / Japan

Masking the issue

As the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China rises along with the number of global infection cases, retailers in Japan are resorting to unusual measures: clothes shops such as Beams, United Arrows and FIL, and department stores including Isetan and Mitsukoshi have asked staff to wear masks during business hours. The precautionary measure has muffled the usual chorus of “Irasshaimase!” (Welcome!) that shoppers would normally hear around this time, when the Lunar New Year holidays across Asia typically lead to a surge of visitors. It also coincides with a run of panic-buying that has left pharmacies, supermarkets and convenience stores in the country sold out of masks, which have become commonplace for flights and generally for going outdoors (among those willing to leave their homes). The shortage is shocking for Japan, which goes through about 5.5 billion masks a year. But it’s easily explained: imports of masks from China, which account for the majority of the supply to the Japanese market, have all but ceased in recent weeks.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Hong Kong

Words on the street

Joshua Wong’s new book Unfree Speech, which is published today, is the first title that the Hong Kong pro-democracy activist has written for an international audience. In it he describes his native city as the canary in the coalmine of global democracy and appeals to foreign governments to stand with Hong Kong, echoing the stance he’s taken as an international ambassador for the protest movement. The 23-year-old (pictured) has come a long way since his rise to fame as the teenage figurehead of the student-led Umbrella Movement in 2014; he was subsequently imprisoned. These formative events are covered in a little more than 250 pages, making Unfree Speech a fascinating primer on Wong – and Hong Kong since its handover from the UK to China. In an interview on today’s The Globalist, Wong describes himself as just one of a thousand “facilitators” of the current civil unrest; Unfree Speech is full of similar understatement and modesty. Nonetheless, many of its readers will reach the same conclusion: Wong seems destined to remain a leader in Hong Kong and this book is not his final word.

Image: Hermes

Retail / Global

Little luxuries

When Hermès does something, you pay attention. The family-run maison remains a luxury-industry frontrunner and doesn’t take any steps without careful consideration. So yesterday's launch of Hermès Beauty, a new metier for the brand, is significant. The beauty line will begin with lipstick – Rouge Hermès will come in 24 colours and two finishes – before other products are unveiled at six-monthly intervals. The launch is a collaborative effort between Jérôme Touron, creative director of Hermès Beauty; Pierre Hardy, who designed the whimsical refillable cases; Hermès artistic director Pierre-Alexis Dumas; and the company’s women’s artistic director Bali Barret. It’s a sensible commercial move. While many other luxury brands have successful cosmetics lines, including Chanel and Dior, Hermès has stuck to fragrances – until now. Lipsticks and cosmetics are entry-level products that will enable a broader customer base to buy into this most aspirational of brands. A tiny piece of Hermès could be yours for the £58 (€68) price of a lipstick; plenty of people will pay for that.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Australia

Runaway spending

A rail project under construction deep beneath Sydney’s famous harbour is set to radically reshape the city’s urban transport when it opens in 2024. But a secret report seen by The Sydney Morning Herald reveals that it will also come with a hefty price tag of up to AUD$16.8bn (€10.3bn) – more than AUD$4bn (€2.5bn) above its original budget. It follows reports that the cost of the city’s long-awaited light rail, which opens next month, was also nearly double the original estimate. The reason is partly due to skills and materials shortages caused by the high number of large infrastructure projects taking place across the country (a metro tunnel is being built in Melbourne and the Gold Coast is also considering a light rail). Australia’s investment in public transport is a positive step but, after decades of predicted population increases in major urban areas, it’s also long overdue. Commuters will be hoping that Sydney’s latest overspend prompts a renewed focus on long-term growth strategies.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs


Freddie Blackett is the co-founder and CEO of Patch, the London-based online garden centre launched in 2015. Patch helps customers choose the right plants for their space and delivers them to their door. The service has proved popular in helping Londoners – from rookie gardeners to plant enthusiasts and big-name corporate clients – to select and care for their plants, while giving them confidence to head to the nearest garden centre.

Monocle Films / Global

The secret to opening a bike shop

In the latest episode of our 'Secret to...' series we talk to Jack Pattison, co-founder of Freddie Grubb, about the key elements that go into creating an outstanding bike shop.


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