Ken will be remembered as one of the great city leaders

If you seek his memorial, look around you.

It was around midnight on Friday night, when I heard Boris Johnson's plummy Etonian tones intone his acceptance speech, that it was finally brought home to me that Labour had indeed lost the 2012 mayoral election. I felt suddenly depressed and infinitely sad. The polls had said we would for weeks. But in the final cliff-hanging hours of Thursday night I wanted to believe that somehow, defying all reason, Ken could just inch ahead on second-preference votes.

No sooner had the returning officer announced the result than the airwaves and the blogosphere were flooded with people analysing why Ken lost. But much of this punditry says more about the undying enmity towards Ken in some sections of the Labour Party than about the facts. And the most popular analysis so far is that “It’s Ken wot lost it”

The people that would blame Ken, and Ken alone, for his defeat like to point to the allegedly huge gap between his vote and the vote for Labour GLA candidates. But this analysis shows that the average gap between the two was one per cent. What Ken’s detractors always forget is that he brings with him his own loyal vote, going back to his glory days at the GLC, which compensates for any missing Labour voters.

But Ken’s enemies also ignore the fact that the Tories fought a ruthless American style campaign designed to destroy Ken as a person. And they were aided and abetted by an Evening Standard which was more rabidly pro-Tory than ever. With the benefit of hindsight maybe Ken’s tax affairs could have been managed better or the rebuttal more effective. But the Tories, and their little helpers at the Standard, zeroed in on the issue. David Cameron raised it three separate times in one session of Prime Minister's Questions. They knew smearing Ken as some kind of money-hungry, tax dodging plutocrat went to the heart of Ken’s brand. In that way, the campaign on Ken’s tax affairs owed a lot to the equally unpleasant and dishonest 2004 Republican “swift boat” campaign against the Democratic nominee John Kerry. 

The allegations of anti-Semitism which dogged Ken’s campaign were also a smear. And, when challenged, the people hinting this always denied that they were making any such allegation. In fact the origins of the differences of opinion between Ken and some on the right were really about his long-standing support of justice for the Palestinians. But these political differences morphed into an allegation of anti-Semitism, which was all the harder to rebut because it was never spelt out. However it undoubtedly had an effect. Although the average difference between Ken’s vote and the Labour vote was only 1 per cent, in Barnet and Camden, covering a big Jewish community, it was 3 per cent.

But the main reason for the undying enmity between Ken and the Labour Party establishment was that on so many issues he was right and they were wrong. It was Ken who argued for troops out of Northern Ireland and he supported the cause of the Birmingham Six when the Labour Party front bench wanted nothing to do with the issue. Ken stood up for gay rights when you got abused for it. And as Mayor of London he introduced civil partnerships and proved to Tony Blair that he could bring them in nationally without risking the wrath of the Daily Mail-reading classes.. He argued the feminist case (and promoted women) long before it was a mainstream issue in the Labour Party. And he fought for racial justice and cases like the Stephen Lawrence campaign, when mainstream Labour Party figures would not touch these issues with a barge pole.

And there is no corner of the capital where you cannot see the consequences of Ken’s vision as a political leader in London. Too many people forget that was it the money and the new objectives Ken gave the South Bank arts complex that turned it into the hugely popular destination for ordinary people it is today. First as leader of the GLC and then as London mayor he masterminded huge waves of investment in public transport. Umpteen stations were upgraded, new bus routes were introduced and new lines built including the East London line.  Ken was passionate about bringing the Olympics to London. The congestion charge was his personal decision. On the environment and green issues he was genuinely forward thinking

In a long career in politics, Ken accumulated all too many enemies. And there is no doubt he had his faults. But on his worst days he was a better and braver politician than all the people currently pontificating on his character flaws. Ken he will go down in history as one of the great big city leaders like Fiorella La Guardia in New York.  As we move into the worst slump since the 1930s, London will soon have buyer's remorse about Boris Johnson. But, in a Latin tag that Boris would appreciate, you can say of Ken and his leadership in London “Si monumentum requiris circumspice” 

Diane Abbott is the shadow public health minister.

"On his worst days he was a better and braver politician than all the people currently pontificating on his character flaws." Photograph: Getty Images.

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow home secretary. She was previously shadow secretary for health. 

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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.