Monday. 9/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Fractured states

Europeans often look at moments of dysfunction in US politics, such as the past week’s onerous attempts to elect a new speaker of the House of Representatives, and ask me a simple question: why this fealty to the two-party system? With Friday marking two years since the 6 January attack on the US Capitol and Republican lawmakers nearly coming to blows before finally settling on a speaker of the House of Representatives that question is back: why hasn’t the Republican party broken up?

New parties are often how the European system renews itself: Emmanuel Macron split from France’s Socialist Party and led his own outfit to power instead. But Americans typically remake parties from within. Donald Trump’s Republicans are an entirely different breed to those of George W Bush. But there is a precedent for European-style renewal, albeit not a recent one. In the 1840s the once-dominant Whig party broke into pieces, largely due to intense intra-party bickering over slavery. Out of the ashes emerged the anti-slavery Republican party and its first elected president, Abraham Lincoln.

Might modern-day Republicans go the way of the Whigs? The historians who I’ve spoken to say that the present situation doesn’t quite match what happened then. For one thing, the Republican party was founded at a time when the two-party system was less established. For another, slavery was such a major issue that it couldn’t have been changed from within; opposing it necessitated its own movement. By contrast, a Republican break-up today would be political suicide, splitting the conservative vote over squabbles far less significant than slavery. That’s why the party was forced to reach a deal that gives more power to its extreme wing instead of, say, expelling the 20 radical lawmakers who sought to prevent Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker.

If there is a positive in the disunity, it’s that Republicans are finally having an honest, transparent discussion about the party’s members and what they stand for. Maybe it will renew itself yet. And if not? History shows that, even in the US, obstinate political parties can’t last forever.

Christopher Cermak is Monocle’s Washington correspondent.

Image: Alamy

Defence / New Zealand

Naval gazing

New Zealand is small, remote and has neither the need nor desire to be a global military power. Its army consists of just 4,519 troops (excluding the reserve force) and the combat wing of its air force was dismantled 22 years ago. But New Zealand has a lot of ocean to patrol and it’s struggling to find anyone to do it. The country has one of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones, strategic and diplomatic commitments across the Pacific, and a search-and-rescue area of responsibility amounting to 7 per cent of the Earth’s surface. Yet one third of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s fleet – three ships – is now docked due to a shortage of sailors.

The difficulty is in retention as well as recruitment; sailors with technical skills can earn more, and stay drier, elsewhere. But a perception that New Zealand’s government lacks ambition for its navy probably doesn’t help: reversing last year’s decision to suspend the acquisition of a new Antarctic patrol ship might be a start.

Image: Reuters

Retail / Japan

More the merrier

Crisp, dry weather and an end to coronavirus restrictions have brought out the shoppers in Tokyo. The signs were already promising at the year’s first tuna auction at the city’s Toyosu fish market: the most fancied lot, a 212kg bluefin tuna (pictured), was sold for just more than ¥36m (€255,000), more than double last year’s highest bid. Japan’s department stores, which were hit hard during the pandemic, have been posting positive results too.

Most kicked off their traditional new year sales on 2 January and have been outstripping last year’s takings. The big winner was Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings, with sales at Isetan’s flagship shop in Shinjuku and the Mitsukoshi outlet in Ginza up by as much as 33 per cent on last year. The return of international tourism has also prompted brisk duty-free business for department stores. Even if the number of shoppers has yet to hit pre-pandemic levels, it’s good to see some positive news from the beleaguered retail sector.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Global

Under the influence

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell (pictured, on left, with Morocco’s foreign minister, Nasser Bourita), made an awkward visit to Morocco last week amid an ongoing corruption scandal in Brussels. Dubbed “Qatargate”, the scandal erupted after Belgian police raided a number of European lawmakers’ homes in December, finding €1.5m in cash. The money is alleged to have been given to four MEPs by individuals connected to the Qatari government in exchange for promises to help improve the Gulf state’s image. Prosecutors have also named Morocco, the EU’s largest trading partner in Africa, as a country that has sought to influence its parliamentarians. Morocco’s EU ambassador allegedly sent gifts to relatives of Pier Antonio Panzeri, one of the MEPs arrested. “This is an ethical dilemma for the EU,” Suzanne Lynch, Politico’s chief Brussels correspondent, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “It will dog the EU going forward as it seeks to intensify relations with countries, particularly in the Arab world.”

To hear the latest about the EU’s ‘Qatargate’ scandal and other stories from around the world, tune in to ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Dan Mariner

Fashion / Iceland

Outer limits

Icelandic outerwear brand 66ºNorth is hoping to hit the global stage with a new flagship shop on London’s Regent Street and the recent hire of Kei Toyoshima, previously Bottega Veneta’s head of ready-to-wear menswear, as creative director. With backing from New York-based investment firm Mousse Partners and a B Corp certification, 66ºNorth is putting Iceland’s fashion sector on the map with its durable down jackets and shearling fleeces.

For Helgi Oskarsson, 66ºNorth’s CEO, the brand’s origins in producing protective clothing for fishermen in the 1920s remain crucial to the company’s identity, helping it to stand out. “Iceland was so poor at the time that you had to be frugal about how much fabric you were using, avoid waste and repair everything,” says Oskarsson. “All of that is now a big part of fashion’s sustainability conversation but it has long been part of our history.”

To read the full story, pick up a copy of Monocle’s December-January double issue, which is on newsstands now.

Image: Daniel Brokstad

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Irregular type

Norwegian designer Daniel Brokstad tells us more about Inconstant Regular, a new typeface that is both accessible and easy on the eye.

Monocle Films / Greece

Athens: urban inspiration

Athenians have a knack for injecting pockets of greenery and a sense of innovation into their ancient city. Their urban interventions are aimed at cooling down this dense metropolis and safeguarding its sacred sights as much as the neighbourhood life. We climb its seven hills to get a fresh perspective on the city’s charms.

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