Monday. 19/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Alexis Self

Growing pains

There’s a (probably apocryphal) Winston Churchill quote about how possession of a brain means that one must be a conservative by the age of 40. But this aphorism supposes that by a person’s fourth decade, they will have a greater stake in society. The truth is that, across large swathes of the world, young people today are expected to earn less, own less, have fewer children and, in some cases, shorter lives than their parents. Notwithstanding the fact that this undermines the idea of progress to which so much of human endeavour is bound, it also portends actual social collapse. You don’t have to be a conservative (of either sized “c”) to realise that if young people have no stake in a system, they will want to bring it down.

This is perhaps the thinking behind a month-long survey to be launched today in England by Dame Rachel de Souza, the country’s new children’s commissioner. Dubbed “The Big Ask”, it invites children to submit suggestions for improving their post-pandemic lot. The idea takes inspiration from the closest thing modern Britain has to a sacred text: in 1942 the UK government commissioned a report into how society could be improved once the guns fell silent. The resulting Beveridge Report laid the foundations for the modern welfare state.

It’s not hard to imagine what will be on English whippersnappers’ lists this time around: housebuilding, free higher education and more funding for mental-health treatment are just a few perennial millennial gripes. But the bigger problem remains that whatever they suggest must be enacted through a political system that caters to the largest demographic group. Recent studies have shown that age was the defining characteristic in determining voter intention in the past three general elections – and the average British voter is 51. This survey is a move in the right direction but until the young have greater political clout, their interests will always be secondary in lawmakers’ minds. Ensuring that young people have access to the same opportunities as their parents needn’t be a big ask.

Alexis Self is a producer with Monocle 24 in London.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / UAE

Meet in the middle

It has been revealed that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is mediating between Pakistan and India in a bid to help the Asian rivals reach what has been called a “healthy and functional” relationship. The announcement follows secret talks between the nuclear-armed nations in Dubai in January. Such mediation has historically been the purview of neutral countries, such as Switzerland, the Nordics and Canada, but the Gulf’s involvement is growing: neighbouring Qatar’s role in Afghanistan’s peace process is well-documented, for example. So why is the UAE now turning to mediation? “Dubai has spent many months toning down its military role in both Yemen and Libya,” Iona Craig, expert on the Gulf and Orwell prize fellow, tells The Monocle Minute. “The UAE’s switch to soft power is welcome but is also a great PR opportunity for the country that doesn’t have the best of international reputations.” More countries engaging in peaceful mediation can only be a good thing – but their motivations bear monitoring as well.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Canada

On the money?

Canada’s finance minister Chrystia Freeland (pictured) will unveil her Liberal government’s budget today – its first in two years. Reports suggest that it will be a vast programme of public spending to help rebuild the economy and the plan is anchored by investments in green infrastructure, small businesses and childcare. But what does the public want? A recent opinion poll by Ipsos found that eight in 10 Canadians believe that balancing the nation’s books is a priority. That’s in contrast to the mood south of the border, where Joe Biden's ambitious infrastructure-spending plan has so far received popular support across party lines. In Canada, early federal elections this year are increasingly likely so Justin Trudeau’s government needs to quickly wrest back a narrative of authority and control, which has been overtaken recently by a third wave of coronavirus infections and a woefully ineffective vaccine rollout. Today’s budget could be the start – but Freeland has some convincing to do.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Nairobi

Green light

A lack of co-ordinated planning for the 3.5 million commuters who travel through Nairobi every day has long caused the city to grind to a halt during rush hour. But in an attempt to ease this gridlock, the government has begun to embrace the city’s matatus – Kenya’s privately owned bus lines – by funding and building a dedicated transit hub for these colourful vehicles close to the CBD. The newly completed Green Park Terminus has the capacity to host 350 vehicles, while also controlling their movement by assigning routes and boarding times. It’s a significant move for an informal service that has long filled gaps in a transport market where public investment was negligible. The new approach is a reminder that when private options step up, there’s a chance for public bodies to step in and support them too. For Nairobi, such an arrangement could be a win-win for the city and commuters.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Switzerland

Start with a bang

How does your community get ready for summer? The people of Zürich have long put their fate in the hands – or should that be the head? – of the Böögg (pictured). A 3.4 metre-high snowman filled with wood, wool and, in its head, explosives, Böögg is the highlight of Sechseläuten, a public holiday and parade of Zürich-based guilds held on the third Monday of April. During the celebrations, the Böögg is placed on its very own funeral pyre and set alight; tradition dictates that the quicker its head explodes, the better the forthcoming summer will be. This year, for the first time since the tradition began in 1892, the Böögg will travel outside Zürich. The nearby canton of Uri has offered to place the flammable snowman in the middle of a mountain range on a beautiful bridge. Considering that the event was cancelled altogether last year, Zürich’s residents can’t really complain: all of us could use a quick burn and hope that it portends a great summer.

Image: Dan Perez

M24 / The Menu

The Arabesque table

Reem Kassis on what united the cooking of the Arab world, how Dubai is trying to reinvent itself as a global hub for coffee culture and Daniel Calvert’s new restaurant in Tokyo.

Monocle Films / Sweden

Sweden’s Arctic: green innovation

Norrbotten in Sweden is blessed with natural resources but more recently has been turning heads because of its growing roster of innovative start-ups. We bear witness to the region's effort to change heavy industries into clean businesses.

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