Friday. 23/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Rhys James

State of independence

Two of the UK’s Labour Party-supporting heartlands are being placed under fresh lockdown restrictions today. Wales, which has a population of about three million, will do so of its own volition as its devolved powers allow it to take control of some of its own affairs without any input from central government in London. Greater Manchester, meanwhile, which has a similar number of inhabitants as Wales but no such autonomy, is being coerced into its stoppage by the Conservative government – and it’s unclear when the restrictions will be lifted.

The standoff in the north-west of England has made for uncomfortable viewing. Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, resisted Westminster’s attempts to enforce a lockdown and even the city’s right-wing representatives fought his corner. By contrast, Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, doesn’t need Westminster’s permission to act – or indeed to do nothing. His plans to impose a “short, sharp” two-week lockdown might yet provide a blueprint for other regions in the UK.

So could the Welsh experience encourage demands for greater Mancunian autonomy? Wales took decades to warm to the idea, overwhelmingly rejecting devolution in a 1979 referendum. But in 1997 I remember staying up on a school night to watch its wafer-thin acceptance of the proposal; and then, as a fledgling radio producer in 2011, I covered the referendum on expanding the Welsh parliament’s remit. That last result was emphatic, as 63.5 per cent of voters backed direct law-making powers for the country.

Devolution, of course, isn’t a silver bullet. It requires effective leadership and buy-in from the electorate that it aims to serve. But it is curious that the Welsh seem happier than the Mancunians as they head into their respective lockdowns. It might just be that the Welsh are safe in the knowledge that decisions on their collective health and livelihoods are being taken much closer to home.

Business / Japan

Welcome relief

Eager to boost its struggling economy, Japan is hoping to open up quarantine-free, short-stay business travel from next month. According to reports in the Japanese press, business travellers who stay no more than 72 hours will be allowed to enter the country without self-isolating on arrival. The first countries being considered are all in the Asia-Pacific region and include Taiwan, Thailand, China, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Other key trading partners where infection rates are not under control – notably India and the US – will have to wait. Travellers who are eligible for the short-stay visa will have to take a coronavirus test on arrival and submit a travel plan. They will also be asked to limit their movements, avoid public transport and keep clear of crowded places such as bars and restaurants. It’s a cautious opening but a further sign that Japan is ready to get back on its feet.

Aviation / Hungary

Runway success

Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air yesterday launched a new UK base at Gatwick Airport, from where it will offer new routes to Athens, Lanzarote, Malta and Naples. This is in addition to the airline’s new presence at Doncaster Sheffield Airport and another 12 hubs that it launched across Europe since the start of the pandemic. “Rather than sitting back and waiting to see how things pan out, we’ve been proactive,” Owain Jones, managing director of Wizz Air UK, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist after watching the inaugural flight from Gatwick to Naples push back from the gate.

Though the airline has cut back on daily routes for the moment, Jones says its strong cash reserves allow it to gamble on a long-term recovery. “We built up a strong financial background which gives us the strength to work through the crisis – not to pull back,” he says. Wizz Air also plans to take delivery of 250 new aircraft in the next five years, marking a rare forecast of clear skies ahead.

Fashion / Middle East

Covering all angles

A new line of “modest” fashion aimed at women in the Middle East has been launched by UK-based retailer Pretty Little Thing. The company first set up a dedicated Middle East website back in June and this new line will offer products such as sports hijabs, headscarves, wide-leg trousers, abayas and long-sleeved eveningwear. The more demure tastes of the market in the Middle East might seem a poor fit for a brand known for its ultra-revealing celebrity collaborations – not to mention accusations of being emblematic of the fast-fashion industry’s hyper-sexualisation of girls and women – but Pretty Little Thing has characterised the launch as part of its commitment to diversity. It’s also a canny commercial move, designed to lure highly trend-conscious customers in a region that has historically been better served by the luxury end of the Western fashion industry. The new line might be “modest” but pursuing a new market opportunity is more daring.

Urbanism / Global

Building back better

Coronavirus has required city leaders to rethink everything from transportation and outdoor dining to improving on the 15-minute neighbourhood concept. And whereas the pandemic will pass, the most innovative solutions deserve to remain in place. That’s why Monocle’s November issue has profiled five “change-makers” who have reimagined their cities and neighbourhoods for the better; our stunning before-and-after pictures are proof that positive change is possible. Examples include the work of David Green – a UK architect known for regenerating the ports of Glasgow and Liverpool – who took over a derelict harbour project in Cape Town (pictured) and opened it up to mixed-use development for the entire community. “Our vision was to salvage the soul and authenticity of the waterfront, with the principle that it has to be a place for locals first,” says Green. Words to live by for citymakers everywhere.

M24 / Foreign Desk Explainer

Who won in Bolivia?

In presidential and parliamentary elections last weekend, Bolivians voted overwhelmingly for Luis Arce, the leader of exiled former president Evo Morales’s socialist party. Andrew Mueller looks at what that means for Bolivia – and for Morales.

Monocle Films / Global

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