Who Da Man . . .Date

The accusation that this government lacks a mandate is frequently thrown around – but what does it a

A new prime minister walked in to Downing Street on less than 50 per cent of the vote. A predecessor went on the TV and suggested he "do nothing hasty, sit down have a cup of tea and a think". He did the opposite. Before the door had been shut at No.10, he had implemented the first new policy. Swift, radical, decisive.

He didn't take it to parliament for approval. It wasn't in his party manifesto. The action he took would affect every lender, saver, pension holder, every private-sector employer. It probably deserved at least consultation, further consideration – perhaps, dare I suggest, a plan B to this audacious and radical policy shift.

The year was 1997; the PM Tony Blair; the policy a long-held Lib Dem belief that the Bank of England should be made independent; the predecessor James Callaghan.

Did he have a mandate to do that? Well, he had a significant majority. Did that mean he had a mandate to do something that would affect so many, having failed to fight for it in the election? Well, probably not, but I don't remember an outcry at the time. Instead, it was perceived as a stroke of genius. Indeed, recent Labour memoirs tussle to prove whose idea it was in the first place.

So what about now? Is there a mandate for dealing with the structural deficit? Every time I was on air during the election, I whinged about the danger the three main parties were facing because of their critical lack of detail on dealing with the structural deficit. The result would inevitably be a lack of "mandate". In various studios, senior tacticians from the other parties pointed out that any mention of how specifically to deal with the structural deficit would be electoral suicide. And of course, sadly, they were right.

The small crumb of comfort that I could find was that the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the Lib Dems were the "least worst" when it came to lack of detail on how they would cut.

All three parties were united in the same message. Which was to halve the structural deficit. As the chancellor, George Osborne, writes in the Guardian today:

The Labour leadership claims it would stick to Alistair Darling's plan to halve the deficit in four years, but day after day it opposes the spending cuts that requires. The Darling plan contains £14bn of cuts this coming financial year – just £2bn less than our plan. Yet with just five weeks to go until April we know everything about the cuts Labour opposes but nothing about the cuts it supports.

The question then became one of pace, but it was never about scale.

When I hear the regular accusation about lack of a mandate, I have some sympathy. No, really – I do. But that raises several questions. How is it defined? Is a written constitution the only way of defining it? Until a government is elected with over 50 per cent of the vote, does it lack a mandate? Is a simple parliamentary majority sufficient? Or do we need a better voting system to reflect people's wishes more accurately?

In Blair's autobiography, he struggled with definitions of mandate following the 2005 general election:

I couldn't get the argument heard . . . It found insufficient echo among other Labour speakers and very little within the media. The result was a campaign and mandate that meant different things to different people. I was completely certain: the manifesto and the mandate was one for New Labour, but the absence of serious policy discussion meant there was no sense of that being so.

For the last few weeks, I have tweeted asking for definitions of mandate. Replies have come back saying predominantly "not what this government is doing", or "the scale of reform and the pace of change do not have any support'. But equally, I would argue that what is clear is that there was absolutely no mandate for keeping Labour in power.

I guess the most useful response so far was that "it is a date between two men".

Any better offers? Or is this going to be a much-used, much-misunderstood phrase over the next few years?

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Is Google Maps discriminating against people with disabilities?

Its walking routes are not access-friendly.

“I ended up having to be pushed through a main road in London, which was really scary.” Three weeks ago, Mary Bradley went to London to visit her daughter Belinda, who is just finishing her first year at university there. Her other daughter joined them on the trip.

But what was supposed to be an enjoyable weekend with her two children turned into a frustrating ordeal. The apps they were using to find their way around kept sending them on routes that are not wheelchair-friendly, leading to time-consuming and sometimes frightening consequences.

Bradley has been using a wheelchair – when having to go longer distances without a vehicle – for over a year, due to a 45-degree curve in her spine, severe joint facet deterioration in her back, and other conditions.

She lives in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, and has made the trip up to London to visit her daughter a handful of times. Each visit, they use Google Maps and the transport app Citymapper to find their way around, as neither of them know London particularly well.


Belinda and Mary Bradley. Photo: Belinda Bradley

“It was just horrible,” says Bradley of her most recent trip to the capital. “We’re following the maps, and we go along, then find we are faced with a footbridge, and realise there was no way I was going to get over it, so we had to go back the way we’d come. At one point, we were faced with a strip of narrow pavement the wheelchair couldn’t go down. That was something we found all weekend.”

While Google Maps did highlight accessible Tube stations, they found that once they had alighted to do the rest of the journey to their destination on foot, “it took us three times as long, because the route that it takes us just wasn’t passable”.

They ended up having to try different routes “having no real idea of where were going”.

“It meant that it took so much longer, the girls ended up having to push me for longer, I got more and more embarrassed and frustrated and upset about the whole thing,” Bradley tells me.

At one point, her daughters had to take her down a main road. “Being pushed on a road, especially in London, is scary,” she says. “It was scary for me, it was scary for the girls.”

When they returned home, Belinda, who is a 19-year-old Writing and Theatre student at the University of Roehampton, was so furious at the situation that she started a petition for Google Maps to include wheelchair-friendly routes. It hit over 100,000 signatures in a fortnight. At the time of writing, it has 110,601 petitioners.


Belinda's petition.

Belinda was surprised that Google Maps didn’t have accessible routes. “I know Google Maps so well, [Google]’s such a big company, it has the satellite pictures and everything,” she says. “So I was really surprised because there’s loads of disabled people who must have such an issue.”

The aim of her petition is for Google Maps to generate routes that people using wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks, or pushing prams will be able to use. “It just says that they’re a little bit ignorant,” is Belinda’s view of the service’s omission. “To me, just to ignore any issues that big needs to be solved; it needs to be addressed almost immediately.”

But she also wants to raise awareness to “make life better in general” for people with disabilities using navigation apps.

Belinda has not received a response from Google or Citymapper, but I understand that Google is aware of the petition and the issue it raises. Google declined to comment and I have contacted Citymapper but have not received a response.

Google Maps does provide information about how accessible its locations are, and also allows users to fill in accessibility features themselves via an amenities checklist for places that are missing that information. But it doesn’t provide accessible walking routes.

“There’s no reason that they couldn’t take it that bit further and include wheelchair accessible routes,” says Matt McCann, the founder of Access Earth, an online service and app that aims to be the Google Maps for people with disabilities. “When I first started Access Earth, I always thought this is something Google should be doing, and I was always surprised they haven’t done it. And that’s the next logical step.”

McCann began crowdsourcing information for Access Earth in 2013, when he booked a hotel in London that was supposed to be wheelchair-friendly – but turned out not to be accessible for his rollator, which he uses due to having cerebral palsy.

Based in Dublin, McCann says Google Maps has often sent him on pedestrian routes down cobbled streets, which are unsuitable for his rollator. “That’s another level of detail; to know whether the footpaths are pedestrian-friendly, but also if they’re wheelchair-friendly as well in terms of the surface,” he notes. “And that was the main problem that I had in my experience [of using walking routes].”

Access Earth, which includes bespoke accessibility information for locations around the world, aims to introduce accessible routes once the project has received enough funding. “The goal is to encompass all aspects of a route and trip,” he says. Other services such as Wheelmap and Euan's Guide also crowdsource information to provide access-friendly maps.

So how long will it take for more established tech companies like Google to clear the obstacles stopping Mary Bradley and millions like her using everyday services to get around?

“You can use them for public transport, to drive, you can use them if you’re an able-bodied person on foot,” she says. “But there are loads of us who are completely excluded now.”

Sign Belinda Bradley’s “Create Wheelchair Friendly Routes on Google Maps" here.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.