Monday. 12/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images/Hulton Royals Collection

Opinion / Andrew Mueller

Royal appointment

The death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was in no sense a shock – he was 99 years old and had been in poor health – but it is a jolt. For 73 years he had been married to the most famous woman on Earth and had thereby become a figure of global renown himself. Most people reading this will be unable to recall a time when they didn’t know who he was.

The Duke, it is fair to say, was not always an orthodox consort. Obediently tactful obituarists have made much use of such giveaway euphemisms as “plain-spoken” and “didn’t suffer fools gladly”. In his defence it might be noted that past gleeful wrap-ups of Philip’s gaffes by British newspapers were usually wrought from the same dozen or so departures from the script over seven decades of unrelenting scrutiny amid the barely imaginable boredom of royal duty. Many among us would have exceeded his tally of irritable indiscretions before lunch on day one.

As this Minute reaches your inbox, the UK media is into day four of what will likely be weeks, if not months, of faithfully lachrymose observances. For an Australian, the Duke’s passing is another reminder of our quaint insistence on selecting our head of state via accident of birth in a foreign castle – leavened, perhaps, with gratitude for his unwitting role in one of my country’s more amusing recent political uproars: in 2015, then-prime minister Tony Abbott squandered the last of his political capital by awarding the already abundantly decorated Duke a knighthood.

But beneath the reveries for Philip himself will be an unmistakable foreboding of what his passing portends; the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth, have a still-greater psychological upset looming. The argument often made in favour of monarchies is that they provide a nation – or, in Queen Elizabeth II’s case, 15 nations – with a vital pillar of stability. The long and diligent service of the Queen and Prince Philip amply reinforces this point. But there’s nothing quite like the removal of a fixture to prompt consideration of whether it can, or should, be replaced.

Image: Getty Images

Society / China

Feeling its age

China’s once-a-decade census is expected to confirm Beijing’s worst fears when the data is released in the coming days. It is likely to show that the percentage of older people in the country continues to rise but the birth rate has slumped. And this despite the Chinese Communist Party’s decision to scrap its controversial one-child rule in 2016. “That policy has certainly played a part in the demographic shift but the other factor is urbanisation,” Isabel Hilton, founder of China Dialogue, tells The Monocle Minute. “Children are very much an asset in the countryside and a burden in the city.” Other countries have relied on an influx of foreigners to confront depopulation but China has done little to encourage immigration, which makes its response to the looming crisis hard to predict. “This is all very new in China, which has been used to limiting the size of families rather than encouraging them to grow,” says Hilton.

Image: Shutterstock

Defence / USA

Watch this space

Southern California could be set to once again become the epicentre of the US aerospace industry, something it could last claim in the 1980s. Space Force, the newest branch of the US Armed Forces, plans to locate the headquarters of its Space Systems Command in El Segundo, greater Los Angeles. The division will be in charge of developing and acquiring space capabilities for the US military and its site will include facilities for launches and testing.

The move could bring as many as 11,000 personnel to the area and has been welcomed by the private sector, particularly by those technological aerospace firms that remained in the area. Space Force was the subject of derision when it was created by the Trump administration in 2019 but politicians including California governor Gavin Newsom now see the new headquarters as a big win for the state’s economy. After all, securing the site of a major branch of the US military is nothing to scoff at.

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / Denmark

By the book

Denmark’s culture ministry is rethinking what makes a modern library. In a statement last week it announced a three-pillar reform plan backed by DKK75m (€10m) in state funding. Two of the pillars are pretty obvious – scaling up libraries’ online offerings and making them into centres of lifelong learning – but perhaps the most important involves their designation as a “core institution of democracy”: community spaces for open debate and diversity. Culture minister Joy Mogensen says that due to the prevalence of fake news, it’s increasingly critical that education “must follow the individual throughout life, regardless of age”. And although the funding itself is a drop in the bucket (Denmark’s 245 public libraries had annual expenses of nearly DKK3bn (€400m) in 2018, mostly financed by local municipalities), it’s the thought that counts. Might we suggest that other culture ministries borrow a copy of the three pillars for their own perusal as well?

Image: Getty Images

Retail / UK

Sale away

High streets across the UK have for some time resembled nothing more than navigable inventories of the commercially banal. Lockdown revealed the shaky foundations of these identikit parades, leading to the collapse of a number of town-centre stalwarts. The department store Debenhams’ 243-year history was over quicker than you can say “70 per cent off fashion and homewares” – which, incidentally, is what 97 of its former shops will be offering when they open today for a closing-down fire sale that ends on 15 May. Before you sprint for the door it’s worth musing on what Debenhams’ demise portends for the future of the high street. The brand has been purchased by the aptly named online retailer Boohoo and will soon be relaunched on the web. As for what will become of its former shops, let’s hope that new tenants are soon found and that life (and a bit of commercial diversity) returns to our streets.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Eureka 239: Depuravita

Sandra Nassima founded Depuravita in 2015, selling a range of detox juices and smoothies using locally sourced fruits and vegetables, in smart and sustainable packaging. The Italian brand has since added a line of natural nutrition and skincare products, including probiotic chocolates, at dozens of retailers across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: April issue, 2021

Wondering how to direct your efforts? Monocle’s April issue focuses on refreshing everything from your business to your wardrobe. We sit down with a bumper crop of interviewees, revisit Beirut to see how the city has rebuilt after the blast and go behind the scenes in a Hong Kong newsroom. Plus: plenty of recipes, culture and style recommendations and reportage. Available now at The Monocle Shop.

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