Thursday. 10/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Mixed messages

Earlier this week a friend forwarded a warning into our WhatsApp group chat. The gist was that we should seriously consider stockpiling groceries this week as it increasingly seemed that Boris Johnson would be announcing a no-deal Brexit on Thursday and the supermarket shelves would soon be bare. My friend doesn’t work in government or media but I do know that the message was sent in earnest good faith. (“I hate to exacerbate any situation,” she added apologetically.) After all, those of us in the UK have now been subjected to months of news reports full of anonymous sources talking about down-to-the-wire negotiations or the EU’s obstinance, or Johnson’s abject refusal to compromise.

Combine that with updates about the UK’s lack of preparation for the realities of leaving without a deal and it’s enough to make anyone start to panic. Which reminds me of another warning I received earlier this year when a (different) friend forwarded a message urging people to stockpile everything from paracetamol to canned goods. Anonymous briefings from government sources were suggesting that a UK lockdown was imminent and that the army might even be sent into London to help reinforce it. By the time Johnson actually announced the first lockdown, paracetamol was indeed in scarce supply in London’s supermarkets.

I can’t say whether things are as dire in the Brexit negotiations as the latest headlines would suggest. With all the leaks from unnamed parliamentary sources contradicting press briefings given by mid-level EU officials, it seems impossible to know what’s reality and what’s calculated spin meant to force the other side to blink (or, indeed, provide a plausible defence for any negative outcomes). But it shouldn’t be controversial to say that this chaotic approach to communications is no way for those in higher office to behave.

By drip-feeding warnings and bad news, which is then seized upon and amplified by media both traditional and social, panic and paranoia has been sown into people’s everyday lives. Whether it’s from Downing Street, parliament’s backbenches or officials in Brussels, it’s not hard to see how these leaked titbits are fuelling division and providing fodder for conspiracy theorists who love to shout “fake news”. Surely we can all agree that this is incompatible with the goals of any responsible government.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Sudan

Call for help

This month marks two years since the start of the Sudanese revolution that led to the overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir, the country’s leader for 30 years. But can Sudan make a successful transition to a democratic state? UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council this week that international support remains vital. Despite positive signs, including the signing of a peace agreement in October, DiCarlo reported that Sudan has experienced severe economic decline, worsened by a five-month coronavirus shutdown and a monthly budget deficit approaching $250m (€207m). UN initiatives have made progress and the October agreement has meant that a gradual withdrawal of peacekeeping troops can begin. But the enormous task of removing 6,000 personnel from Darfur will be difficult without outside aid, as will tackling humanitarian crises exacerbated by severe flooding. “It is incumbent on all of us to support Sudan in its efforts to achieve democratic governance, economic prosperity and an inclusive society,” said DiCarlo.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Taiwan & USA

Friendly firepower

Taiwan’s government received an arms package worth $280m (€230m) from the Pentagon this week, the 11th such defence boost under the Trump administration. It came as president Tsai Ing-wen issued an unambiguous warning about the threat posed by “authoritarian forces” on the Chinese mainland and called for a global alliance. China Dialogue CEO Isabel Hilton notes that the Taiwanese president has received strong backing from the US in the past four years.

“Tsai and Trump have been close since their unprecedented phone call at the start of his presidency,” she tells The Monocle Minute. So what will become of that relationship when Joe Biden enters the White House next month? China’s foreign ministry has suggested that it’s open to greater dialogue but a US shift on its Taiwan policy is unlikely, says Hilton. “We should certainly expect a more diplomatic tone from Biden’s team but these defence deals will continue and the US state department won’t go easy on Beijing.”

Image: Oliver Mint

Fashion / France

Wardrobe update

Gabriela Hearst (pictured) has been named the new creative director of Paris-based fashion house Chloé. The move is a sign that parent company Richemont, and luxury markets more broadly, are placing increasing importance on brands’ social and environmental standards. The Uruguayan-born, New York-based designer’s use of recycled cashmere and wool from animals reared on her own ranch is what sets her eponymous label apart from other high-end womenswear brands. Hearst’s appointment brings social cachet of another sort, thanks to her connections in New York and Europe. Her clothing designs tend towards minimalism, with relaxed cuts to soften the austerity and luxe finishes that appeal to discerning, international customers. This is in tune with the menswear-inspired tailoring that successive creative directors Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo brought to Chloé in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It will be interesting to see whether Hearst develops her own riff on the house’s signature style.

Image: Sesortea Pool

Tourism / Spain

Bet the house

Lotteries and raffles might not be the best way to guarantee yourself a future fortune but a bit of blind hope can go a long way after a difficult year. Perhaps that’s why Spanish start-up Sesortea has decided that it will open its raffle concept to UK entrants this holiday season. One lucky ticket-holder will win a holiday home on the Andalusian coast – a furnished two-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a sea view. It follows an explosion of similar “dream-house” raffles by UK-based companies this year but Sesortea does offer a good point of distinction: Spanish law requires the government-licenced raffle to go ahead as promised, no matter how many tickets are sold. That means no last-minute cancellations or downgrades, as have been the case in many UK versions. It’s a shame that they can’t throw a EU passport into the mix after 1 January – but you can’t win everything.

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