Thursday. 14/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Closed for business

If you’ve been following Monocle’s editions, bulletins and broadcasts for the better part of a year then you’ll know that we’ve been taking a generally common-sense, let's-not-forget-the-economy and let’s-remember-mental-health tack on the pandemic. Along the way we’ve called out measures we can’t endorse, questioned policies that make no sense (our pick of the week is Mallorca’s “don’t speak on public transport”) and asked for evidence to support things such as wearing a mask outdoors when no one is around. You’ll also know that we started the pandemic supporting the clear communications and balanced approach that the Swiss have taken throughout – a mix of self-responsibility, sustainable measures that are understandable to all and support for businesses. Our view has now changed.

At a press conference yesterday the new president of the federation, Guy Parmelin (pictured), and the councillor in charge of health, Alain Berset, showed the country (and their critical neighbours) that they wanted to be on the front foot and get ahead of the strain that has developed in the UK by not only keeping all catering businesses shuttered until the end of February but also throwing much of the retail trade under the bus with them. To soften the blow, essential shops will be allowed to reopen on Sundays but everything non-essential will have to close, working from home will be compulsory (though admittedly difficult to enforce) and gatherings must be reduced to five people.

Thankfully, buying fresh flowers and haircuts will still be allowed but Switzerland is yet another government that has now lost all sense of proportion as case numbers and ICU occupancy have been dropping. Entrepreneurs have been left scratching their heads and looking for evidence that you’re in any more danger trying on shoes or buying a book than picking out orchids or getting a short back and sides. We’ve been calling for a more considered and creative approach from leaders – but now we’ve reached a place where speaking in public is also forbidden. We’re in very dangerous territory.

Elections / Uganda

Tipping the balance

Ugandans are voting in presidential and parliamentary elections today after a run-up marked by tensions and political violence. One of the longest-serving presidents in Africa, 76-year-old president Yoweri Museveni is seeking his sixth term in office. His biggest rival is Robert Kyagulanyi (pictured), aka Bobi Wine, the 38-year-old popstar turned politician (who was profiled on The Foreign Desk Explainer [https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-foreign-desk/explainer-185/] on Monocle 24). As 80 per cent of the East African country’s population are under 30, Wine is relying on younger voters to boot Museveni out of office. In response, the government has cracked down on Wine’s rallies under the pretext of coronavirus regulations and on Tuesday blocked public access to all social media platforms. Wine has called on voters to monitor polling stations after international observers were denied access. Fair elections will be crucial for the sake of domestic and regional security but with dozens of opposition protesters already killed in recent months, tensions are unlikely to ease.

Fashion / UK

Bet your boots

Dr Martens has announced plans for a flotation on the London Stock Exchange that could see it valued at more than £3bn (€3.4bn). The goal is to cut the share of private-equity owner Permira by releasing up to 25 per cent of its equity to the public. Though the UK brand’s recognition has historically outstripped the actual size of its business, that has been changing since 2018 and the firm sees more potential to step up growth in the coming years.

Dr Martens seems a sound investment: its lace-up boots are a design classic with deep ties to fashion and music subcultures, and fans of the comfortable air-cushioned sole include everyone from postal workers to surgeons. One concern has been the quality of manufacturing after production was moved from the UK to China almost 20 years ago but the company’s new owners have reduced its reliance on China in recent years. Such efforts to protect the brand’s quality and heritage should matter to consumers and investors alike.

Society / Thailand

Sweeping views

Pictures released by the Thai palace this week of King Maha Vajiralongkorn sweeping prison floors and chatting with officials are a rare and uncharacteristic bid for public favour from the monarch following months of citizen protests demanding reform. Thais were reverential about their previous king Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016, and, at least on the surface, largely seemed eager to comply with strict lèse-majesté laws barring criticism of the crown. The late king encouraged veneration but also was lucky to reign as Thailand’s economy boomed. By contrast Vajiralongkorn (pictured) has presided over slower economic growth. The new king is a controversial figure, spending much of his time in Germany and focused on his fourth marriage. But the apparent sea change in public opinion of the monarchy might also reflect lingering reservations about his growing political power and ongoing restrictions on free speech – and it will take more than a photo op to quell protesters.

Art / USA

Dramatic arts

Among the many consequences of the attack on the US Capitol last week was the damage done to some of the building’s prized artworks by the use of tear gas, pepper spray and fire extinguishers. Statues, murals and historic benches suffered, though paintings including Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull from the early 1800s and most sculptures of prominent Americans in the National Statuary Hall were unscathed. Curators are breathing a sigh of relief. There are some who suggest that signs of damage should be kept on the works as a memento of the events of a day that will live in infamy – and of the fragility of the democratic institutions we hold dear.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Rebrand and reboot

The duo behind Work AC shares how workspaces can foster creativity. Plus: Monocle’s creative director, Richard Spencer Powell, discusses the recent rebrand of the CIA and we find out why physical planners are here to stay.

Film / Spain

Parc de Belloch: the home of Catalonian design

Show-stopping design firm Santa & Cole takes inspiration from the Catalonian countryside and being just far away enough from bustling Barcelona.

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