Thursday. 19/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Nation building

Earlier this year, as observers hailed the speed of the UK’s national coronavirus vaccination programme, one particular piece of data was buried beneath the broader headlines: the rollout in Wales was the most efficient in the world when looking at countries with populations of more than a million.

“It has been a remarkable success story,” Wales’s first minister Mark Drakeford told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “We are a small country and there are definitely some advantages to size in all of this, because you can make decisions more quickly.” As the leader of Wales’ devolved government, Drakeford has been viewed by many as a thoughtful, clear and measured presence during the pandemic. This contrasts with the “make it up as we go along” approach, as Drakeford describes it, of the UK government under Boris Johnson.

However, Drakeford doesn’t subscribe to the view that the pandemic, and indeed Brexit, have made the break-up of the UK’s constituent nations inevitable. “Relationships between the UK government and the various parts of the United Kingdom are in a difficult place,” he says. “My anxiety with the UK government is that its prescription for keeping the UK together is one that will not work and is actually at significant risk of being counterproductive. This isn’t a view shared by everybody but to my mind the pandemic has demonstrated the advantages to Wales of being part of the United Kingdom. That remains the best formula for Wales.” Drakeford’s leadership is in many ways a counter to Johnson’s – and proves the value in politics of having adults in the room.

You can hear more of Monocle’s interview with Mark Drakeford, first minister of Wales, on ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Afghanistan & Turkey

In the middle

In the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Turkey has emerged as a strong contender to head up global mediation efforts. Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu says that the country, assisted by Qatar and Pakistan, is in conversation with Taliban leadership as well as prominent Afghan politicians about ensuring peace and stability. The only current stumbling block in Turkey’s leadership of negotiations is its Nato membership – precisely the factor that makes it a strong candidate from a Western perspective. Six hundred Turkish troops are currently based at Kabul Airport as part of a Nato mission and the Taliban has said that their presence prohibits any potential role. Despite this, Hannah Lucinda Smith, Istanbul correspondent for The Times, told The Briefing that a position at the forefront of conciliation efforts is ultimately Turkey’s to lose. “Turkey does occupy this really unique and important space in the world as a Nato member but also a huge Muslim country,” she says. “If it plays this right, there’s an opportunity to position Turkey as mediators in this crisis in the months and years going forward.”

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Japan

Game over

After a brief post-Olympics lull, Japanese politics is once again hotting up. On Tuesday, prime minister Yoshihide Suga (pictured) extended the country’s state of emergency until no earlier than 12 September, to try to stem a rise in coronavirus infections. The move caused public outrage, not least since harsh new restrictions were imposed just after the bulk of the world’s media had left. This might hit Suga hard: elections for the presidency of his Liberal Democratic party and the House of Representatives will take place before 30 September and 21 October, respectively. What’s more, the Paralympics start next week and run until 5 September, which could further increase case numbers. And according to public broadcaster NHK, Suga’s approval rating has dropped below an already historically low 30 per cent. So what’s on the premier’s plate? First he needs to navigate these elections, then juggle a successful Paralympics, all while containing the pandemic and increasing the vaccination rate. If he can’t, Suga might well be gone by autumn.

Image: Getty Images

Business / Global

New world order

Amazon is now the world’s highest-earning retailer outside China, according to figures released this week, which show that the online giant’s sales have overtaken those of Walmart. In the 12 months up to June, consumers worldwide spent more than $610bn (€520bn) on Amazon, boosted in no small part by pandemic-related shop closures. E-commerce is, for now, the driving force in global retail – with China’s Alibaba claiming the top spot – and high-street shops have been struggling for some time. US chain Kmart has endured widespread shop closures: of its 2,085 outlets in 2005, only 17 remain. But the repurposing of its former shops as flea markets, car washes and bowling alleys might show one way forward. About 21 million sq m of former Kmart space has been put on the market in recent years and much of it has been divided among community businesses and institutions. Shopping habits picked up during enforced isolation should be shaken off and, as bricks-and-mortar bounces back, it should do so with its neighbourhood in mind. That means more independent businesses offering a personal touch and fewer cavernous, faceless chain shops – otherwise we might as well stay at home.

Image: Ernest Protasiewicz

Media / Global

Headline act

We’ve never needed clear and authoritative journalism more but plenty of media organisations are struggling to navigate a growing sense of mistrust among the public. One solution is to get a little more personal. Seeing news being delivered by a familiar face, accompanied by emotion, empathy and a trustworthy voice, can make all the difference in building rapport – and an audience. That’s why news anchors still matter: broadcasters such as Finland’s Matti Rönkä (pictured) are instrumental in the success of their bulletins. About 800,000 Finns (that’s one in four of the country’s adults) tune in to Yle Uutiset every day at 20.30 on the dot. The national broadcaster’s daily show is the country’s most dependable news source and its most-watched programme, and the channel has Rönkä’s choice of words, reassuring tone and journalistic rigour to thank. Find out more about Rönkä’s role and that of other presenters around the world in Monocle’s September issue on newsstands now.

Monocle 24 / Monocle on Design

Biennales, fairs and expos

We explore some of Europe’s best design events, from Design Biennale Zürich to Copenhagen Fashion Week. Plus, we speak to Nina Marenzi, the founder of Future Fabrics Expo, which focuses on sustainable materials

Monocle Films / Italy

The Monocle Book of Italy

Allow us to introduce you to The Monocle Book of Italy. Our latest title celebrates the much-loved Mediterranean nation through fantastic photography, witty illustrations and plenty of insightful writing. Join us for a colourful tour. Order your copy at the Monocle Shop.

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