Tuesday. 6/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Rhys James

Made for turning

To say that Liz Truss (pictured) has been on a transformative journey would be an understatement: having denounced the monarchy as a Liberal Democrat in her youth, the new leader of the Conservative party will today be appointed the UK’s prime minister by Queen Elizabeth II in Balmoral. To be a fly on the wall of that meeting in Scotland would be manna from heaven for political nerds like me.

Truss, who served as foreign secretary in Boris Johnson’s chaotic government, has made a career out of being a political chameleon. She has changed her mind about the EU and, over the course of her Conservative party leadership campaign against Rishi Sunak, a recording surfaced showing her extolling the virtues of immigration. Now a fully fledged Brexiteer, she has simply shrugged it all off.

Politicians should be allowed – encouraged, even – to change their minds. I’m raising her frequent shifts in position not to challenge her credibility but to understand the way in which she is likely to govern. One of her first acts as leader could be to freeze energy costs to support struggling households in what is arguably the UK’s worst domestic postwar crisis, after repeatedly refusing to offer “handouts” to those in need during her campaign to convince Conservative party members to put her in the post.

The scale of the task ahead for Truss and her embattled government is enormous. But the daughter of nuclear-disarmament campaigners has defied political gravity throughout her career. And while there will be considerably more scrutiny on her as bills continue to rise, the war in Ukraine rages on and a steep recession looms, it isn’t inconceivable that the great political chameleon could change her colours to fit the environment that she finds herself in. That said, to unite her party and the public ahead of a general election, she needs to stand out and make some bold decisions rather than blending into the background.

Rhys James is Monocle 24’s senior news producer.

Image: Getty Images

Elections / Kenya

Democratic vistas

Following weeks of political uncertainty, Kenya’s Supreme Court has upheld William Ruto’s presidential victory. Yesterday’s verdict paves the way for his swearing-in as the country’s fifth president next week. Ruto won the 9 August vote by a razor-thin margin of 50.49 per cent against rival Raila Odinga’s 48.85 per cent. Odinga sought to overturn the results, alleging that the electoral commission’s servers had been hacked to alter them in Ruto’s favour. Chief justice Martha Koome dismissed some of the key arguments put forward by Odinga’s lawyers as “no more than hot air”. The decision represents a ripening of Kenya’s democracy. “Kenyans have demonstrated that the option of law in settling political disputes is better than resorting to violence,” Moses Onyango, lecturer at the United States International University Africa, tells The Monocle Minute. “All Kenyans are winners in the Supreme Court’s verdict.” The next step, says Onyango, is for Ruto to be magnanimous and unifying in victory.

Image: Seville City Council

Urbanism / Spain

Throwing shade

It takes a tree to unite a village: a controversial attempt to cut down a very old fig tree (pictured) in Seville has been halted by a judge and mobilised citizens in the process, with many wondering why the city’s government would want to get rid of a primary source of urban shade at a time when summer temperatures above 40C are now commonplace.

Felling rates in Seville are high and, while the government says that it has planted 400 new trees to replace the 300 already cut down, the solution isn’t that straightforward. Larger plants are often destroyed and replaced with new, smaller varieties to make room for urban developments and construction work. These provide less shade and, in turn, fewer health benefits. Ecologists and urbanists have repeatedly spoken about the different ways in which large trees can benefit hot cities. Perhaps it’s time for officials to start heeding their advice.

For more on what makes cities tick, listen to ‘The Urbanist’, our podcast dedicated to the cities we live in.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Russia

Business as usual

Russia’s four-day Eastern Economic Forum is under way in Vladivostok. The trade event, held annually since 2015, is designed to attract investment to Russia’s far east. Last year there were 4,000 delegates from dozens of countries and 380 deals were signed. This year is looking less buoyant amid sanctions from Western governments, Japan and South Korea following the invasion of Ukraine. But Vladimir Putin is still keen to highlight his remaining economic partners.

Events include dialogues with China, India and Asean representatives, as well as a conference on trade and investment in the Arctic. Li Zhanshu (pictured, on left, with Putin), number three in the Chinese Communist Party, is due to attend tomorrow, becoming the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Russia since the war began. So why does it matter? This year’s theme, “On the Path to a Multipolar World”, offers a clue. As does Putin’s defiant message ahead of the forum: “The obsolete unipolar model is being replaced by a new world order.”

Image: Matt Grace - Prime Video

Culture / Middle Earth

Force of hobbit

Some 25 million viewers watched the return of elves and orcs in Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power after the first two episodes were released on Friday. Here show-runners Patrick McKay and JD Payne discuss the series, which cost more than €1bn, and the weight of expectations to deliver a winner in the crowded world of streaming.

Were you tethered to JRR Tolkien’s work or were you free to create a new world?

Patrick McKay: Tolkien outlined these amazing stories. We don’t feel like we’re creating anything but nor do we feel tethered. We’re trying to be stewards and realise these stories in the grandest, most emotionally effective way.

We meet characters at their genesis. How exciting a challenge was that?

JD Payne: The “Third Age”, when the stories of Frodo and Bilbo take place, is in a post-apocalyptic Middle Earth but in the “Second Age” the party is in full swing. The characters are proto versions of who they will become, deepening our understanding of iconic people and places.

How early on did you decide to riff on the map of Middle Earth?

PM: What most audiences have seen of Middle Earth is set in a very small part of it but the world is much more vast. We wanted to go all over it. That was the goal from the very beginning.

Hear the full interview with Patrick McKay and JD Payne on this week’s episode of ‘Monocle on Culture’.

Image: Justin Ming Yong

Monocle 24 / The Stack

Panini’s World Cup sticker album

We look at the appeal of Panini’s football stickers ahead of the release of its 2022 World Cup album.

Monocle Films / Global

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