Thursday. 10/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Lights, camera, democracy

In the UK, Prime Minister’s Questions – a live, televised ding-dong between the leader of the government and the leader of the opposition – is staple viewing for political junkies. I must confess that I haven’t watched the BBC Parliament channel since my student days in London. But I strongly support the transparency it brings. Few other democracies can compete with Westminster’s weekly theatrics – and many a foreign leader has been known to count their good fortune for that.

It came as a surprise then that Singapore’s government is paving the way, at least in principle, for parliamentary proceedings to be live-streamed in the Lion City. Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) are not known for their love of criticism, so this step towards greater accountability is to be applauded. Yes, viewers in Singapore can already watch parliamentary clips after the fact but there’s nothing like the cut and thrust of live broadcasting to keep politicians on their toes.

Last week’s announcement comes hot on the heels of the summer’s general election. The Workers’ Party, Singapore’s main opposition, made historic gains and reminded the PAP that it’s enduring 61-year majority might not last forever. Lee was moved to address his government’s shortcomings during the pandemic and, in a landmark first for the city-state, he also officially recognised politician Pritam Singh, secretary-general of the Workers’ Party, as leader of the opposition. That post comes with staff support and resources, along with a clear elevation in status: Singaporeans have been captivated this month by news coverage of Singh challenging the government.

The prospect of watching this battle unfold live on screen is bound to boost overall political engagement. But don’t expect Lee to get a Westminster-style, verbal tongue-lashing. This is Singapore, after all, where the government encourages a “sober tone” in all political debates – televised or not.

Health / Switzerland

Open to question

As authorities across Europe grapple with containing the spike in coronavirus infections by reintroducing travel bans and changing rules on socialising, some people are questioning the need for restrictions at all. “A lot of the measures at the beginning were taken with an expectation of a much higher mortality rate than what we know it to be now,” Wolfram Klingler, a Swiss entrepreneur, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. Klingler says that Jens Spahn, the German health minister, acknowledged as much last week when he announced that there would be no need to reintroduce the lockdown measures taken in March. In fact, such rules could do more harm than good. “Taking action for the sake of action will lead to a decline in trust and compliance,” says Klingler. “We need our governments to listen to communities rather than following the top-down approach.” Ultimately, loss of trust in our institutions could pose a far greater threat than any virus.

Defence / Asia

Testing the waters

As tensions continue to ripple across the South China Sea, Beijing is working to reassert its stance in the disputed waters. Since Monday, China’s defence minister Wei Fenghe has been touring Southeast Asia to meet his counterparts in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Wei’s trip takes place against the backdrop of a series of Asean virtual meetings attended by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, which began yesterday. What’s more, China has ramped up military exercises along its southern and eastern coasts, while several US army reconnaissance planes and ships have been spotted near Chinese shores in recent weeks. The South China Sea has long been a terrain for regional rivalries; with Sino-American relations plummeting this year, waters are expected to remain choppy.

Politics / USA

Economy drive

US presidential candidate Joe Biden might lead Donald Trump in almost every polling category but he has consistently lagged behind the incumbent when it comes to the economy. Cutting into Trump’s lead on the matter is key to Biden’s campaign and he was hoping to do just that with a visit to the battleground state of Michigan yesterday. There, Biden (pictured) not only accused the president of failing to bring jobs back to America – a core tenet of Trump’s 2016 campaign – but he also unveiled his own plan to limit offshoring. Biden’s proposed measures include an “offshoring tax penalty” on goods and services that are produced overseas to be sold in the US, as well as a “Made in America” tax credit for investments in manufacturing across the country, including reopening closed factories and expanding production. With polls in recent weeks indicating that Biden is starting to eat into Trump’s lead on the economy, this latest plan could close that gap even further.



Arts / Berlin

Physical attraction

Berlin Art Week kicked off yesterday and it is a sign that yet another industry is getting back on its feet. Aided by a decentralised concept that spreads events evenly throughout the city, with some accompanying digital access, the programme is far from a watered-down version of the art week’s usual line-up. This year’s jamboree involves 20 institutions, 13 private collections and 11 project spaces; it also makes use of intriguing venues, such as the former Berghain nightclub and the city’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. As well as this geographical spread, efforts have been made to ensure that many events are held in the open air – a precaution that considerably reduces any health risks. Complementing this innovative use of space is a strong line-up including a talk by Axel Hütte and works by Hein Gorny. It’s further evidence that, with a little effort, in-person events in our cities can be both safe and exciting to witness.

M24 / Monocle On Design

Business of design

Design is a serious business and so is the business of design. We visit the Copenhagen furniture firm with a completely flat-pack inventory and find out about the DNA of bootmaking with heritage brand John Lobb.

Monocle Films / Global

The secret to putting on perfume

In our ‘Secret to...’ series we look at the best way to wear a fragrance with Frances Shoemack, founder of Abel perfumes.

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