Monday. 20/7/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Train of thought

Choo-choo! Who doesn’t love a great cross-country train journey? Perhaps I’ve been spending a little bit too much time in Switzerland riding on the uber-smooth, always-on-time SBB network. Brits who are used to suffering travel delays, dodgy service and exorbitant ticket prices might not be on my wavelength. But there’s hope for them yet.

This month the UK’s Royal Institute of British Architects launched a global design competition in partnership with Network Rail, which manages the country’s railways, for train station revamps across the country. “Harnessing creativity and ambition through competitions like this will help us carry on that great spirit of design that delivers better journeys for passengers,” says UK transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris, harkening back to his nation’s glory days of rail travel, when small towns built beautiful stations as they excitedly joined an expanding national network during the Victorian era.

Ideas with sustainability at their core will win top marks from the judges. But I’d be keen to see some simple ideas borrowed from the Swiss in the mix too: quality public seating, space for good kiosks, natural timber trimmings, clear signage, well-placed clocks and mood-enhancing lighting all contribute to an uplifting entry point for your ride. That is particularly the case in the UK, where waiting remains a key part of the journey.

Diplomacy / EU

Slow progress

The last time EU leaders met to discuss a post-Brexit budget, talks collapsed – and this weekend’s latest summit has exposed further ideological splits. The 27-member bloc’s first in-person meeting since February extended into an unscheduled third day yesterday, thanks to conflicting views over a €1.85trn long-term budget and an immediate €750bn recovery fund to help member states survive the coronavirus pandemic. France and Germany backed the fund but were frustrated by the “frugal four” group of Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, which is holding out for concessions. “What the summit demonstrates in a very acute way is that a Berlin-Brussels-Paris consensus on what the EU should look like isn’t sufficient to, in this instance, get a deal on the recovery fund through,” says Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, a consultancy. In short, the EU has plenty to think about going forward, from structural issues over the distribution of money to inclusive decision-making and intra-bloc trust.

Rights / Philippines

Long arm of the law

As of 1 August some foreign nationals will be allowed access to the Philippines. Borders have been closed to travellers, including visa holders, since March but even as the island nation looks towards reopening, human-rights groups have raised red flags over an aggressive new strategy to curb the escalation of coronavirus cases in the country. A spokesperson for its president, Rodrigo Duterte, announced that health officials and police will conduct door-to-door checks. Those who test positive for Covid-19 will be taken to state-run isolation facilities. For citizens living in fear of the ongoing “war on drugs”, which has so far claimed thousands of lives, this is a worrying development. “There’s a very large chance that this is going to be a repeat of the drug war in terms of the powers of the police,” says Carlo Bonura, a senior teaching fellow in Southeast Asian politics at Soas, University of London.

Elections / USA

Party planning

There is less than a month to go until party convention season – historically the apogee of the presidential nomination process – gets underway in the US. But it still isn’t clear what form of convention the parties will be able to stage. The Republicans appear to be forging ahead with an in-person event to be held outdoors in Jacksonville, Florida, in late August. Democrats, on the other hand, are considering a largely virtual alternative. Among the ideas being mooted is livestreaming a series of trimmed-back in-person events in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on drive-in cinema screens across the country. Debra Kozikowski, vice chair of the Massachusetts Democratic party and a member of the Democratic National Committee, which organises the party convention, says, “The DNC’s decision to totally change the world in which [the convention] operates, is the right choice.” She insists that the process has brought the party together: “Virtual? Yes. But, still, more up-close and personal.”

Sport / Australia

Back in the game

“It is terrific that we can get back to doing the things we love,” said Western Australian state-government minister Mick Murray after spectators were allowed to attend sporting events in Perth at the weekend. Stadiums were restricted to 50 per cent capacity but crowds of nearly 30,000 flocked to Australian Football League matches in the city. The successful handling of the pandemic in Australia’s largest state (strict quarantine measures and tight border controls resulted in rapid containment of the virus) meant that there was little controversy surrounding the decision to allow supporters to attend the matches. With stadiums expected to be permitted to operate at full capacity from 1 August, it seems that life – and now Aussie rules – has mostly returned to normal on Australia’s west coast.

M24 / Meet the Writers

Monocle Reads: Jenny Kleeman

Georgina Godwin speaks to writer and documentary film-maker Jenny Kleeman about her debut book Sex Robots & Vegan Meat: Adventures at the Frontier of Birth, Food, Sex & Death, which offers a sideway look at the fundamentals of human life.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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