Tuesday. 12/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Lance Price

Clear as mud

When a nation is under threat, whether it be a war, economic catastrophe or a health crisis, people look for clear direction from those in power. The UK was right to expect that of Boris Johnson (pictured) on Sunday, when the prime minister gave his much-awaited speech announcing changes to the country’s lockdown regulations. People don’t expect prime ministers or presidents to be all-seeing, all-knowing or infallible; they do expect them to be capable of consistent and decisive leadership.

The role of the political leader at such times is twofold. First, to bring together those with the experience and expertise needed to tackle the practical challenges presented by the crisis. And second, to communicate to the country what its citizens need to do to play their part in achieving the best possible outcome. He or she must speak to and for the nation as a whole. The single most important characteristic of that communication is clarity. Guidance to the public must be clear and unambiguous. Without pretending to have all the answers, an effective leader will set out in simple terms what is expected of the public. That means using language that isn’t open to interpretation and avoids the kind of uncertainty that might encourage some people to think that it doesn’t apply to them.

And the advice should be presented as transparently as possible. Any sense that governments are hiding the true facts of the situation or refusing to reveal the real reasons for their decisions risks undermining public support for the measures being implemented. That also means being open about the fact that the scientific and medical experts can’t always be certain about how the virus will behave next. It requires admitting that balancing the need to protect the nation’s health and its economy requires difficult judgement calls. If those judgements have to be revised, as some are bound to, then the public will understand – provided it is done openly.

Effective governance is governance by consent and that is never more true than at a time of national emergency. It requires a relationship of trust between government and governed that can only be established through a policy of maximum transparency. “We’re all in this together” is a great slogan but it only works when it is demonstrably true.

Price was head of communications for former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

Politics / Taiwan

Keeping its distance

On Sunday, Taiwan hit its goal of having no domestic coronavirus transmissions for 28 days. It’s a point of pride for president Tsai Ing-wen, who won a second term in January’s election on a pro-independence ticket; she gives her inauguration speech next week. In the announcement, Tsai will have to manage another delicate balancing act: setting out the needs of the island’s sovereignty (China continues to dispute Taiwan’s claim) alongside the needs of its economy – Hong Kong and mainland China account for 40 per cent of its total exports. So far, Tsai has stated that she will maintain a course of “adhering to but not advancing [new] principles” when it comes to Taiwan’s relationship with China. As Hong Kong begins drafting plans this week to reopen borders with its neighbouring territories, Tsai is going to have to look at easing her own island’s borders. When and how she is to do that will matter greatly.

Society / Germany

Out on the street

As places of worship reopened for the first time in more than a month, some pious Germans marked their nation’s easing of lockdown by heading to church on the weekend. But not everybody opted for peaceful reflection: demonstrations spread across the country as thousands gathered to demand a full end to restrictions. The unrest has prompted concerns that these protests might be fertile ground for radicalisation. Far-right groups are a regular feature at these events and they are often joined by anti-vaccine campaigners who, according to Paul Ziemiak, general secretary of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, are attempting to “use the coronavirus crisis as a platform for their anti-democratic propaganda”. Even as it emerges from the pandemic, Germany appears set to face a whole new set of societal challenges.

Design / Milan

Start the bidding

April’s Milan Design Week might have been forced to cancel due to coronavirus but the city is hosting a congregation of international creative talent today – and it is championing a worthy cause. Design Loves Milano is an online charity event organised by creative agency Mr.Lawrence and hosted by Cambi auction house. It will give buyers around the world the opportunity to pick up some beautiful furniture and in the process support Milan’s Luigi Sacco hospital, which will receive all proceeds. The auction list includes donations from celebrated contemporary designers such as work by Milan-based Cristina Celestino (pictured), Netherlands-based Sabine Marcelis and the UK’s Faye Toogood, alongside classic pieces from Ettore Sottsass and other stars of Italian design. Organisers had to stop accepting designer donations due to the overwhelming amount they were receiving; clearly design does love Milano – and we do too. You can pick up a piece yourself when items go under the hammer at 16.00 CEST today at designlovesmilano.com.

F&B / Japan

House special

Regular gourmands in Japan have found a positive side to the pandemic: access to specialised fresh produce that would normally be reserved for the country’s top restaurants. As those establishments are currently closed, regional delicacies such as top-grade tuna, aged beef, plump scallops, shiitake mushrooms and organic purple asparagus are being sold to the public online. One company, Shokubunka, is selling produce from Tokyo’s Toyosu wholesale market through its website. CEO Akifumi Hagiwara says that with so many hotels and restaurants now shut, market prices are considerably lower than usual: he is selling to consumers at a 20 to 30 per cent discount. Hagiwara told Japan’s national broadcaster NHK that Shokubunka’s sales are five times what they were in the same period last year. “I’m trying to support producers and I want people to enjoy top-grade tasty foods that are usually hard to come by,” he said. That’s good news both for home cooks and for Japan’s farming and fishing industries.

M24 / Meet the Writers

Michael Frayn

British author, playwright and translator Michael Frayn is best known for his farcical comedy ‘Noises Off’ and ‘Copenhagen’, which details a 1941 meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg. He is also a translator of Russian and has written several English translations of Chekhov. He spoke to us about his prolific career and his latest book, ‘Magic Mobile’.

Monocle Films / USA

Dallas street style

Texas is about big money, big cars and big characters; we meet the new generation adding some welcome cool to the cowboy chic.

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