The Barclays scandal is a chance for Miliband to show leadership

The Labour leader most move swiftly to articulate public anger.

The time for "remorse" is over, Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond told MPs in January 2011. It turns out it wasn't. The revelation that Barclays repeatedly manipulated interest rates in a bid to increase its profits means that there is much remorse to come. The latest corporate scandal, combined with the ongoing crisis at the RBS-owned Natwest, should make banker-bashing an Olympic sport among politicians.

Labour has rightly called for a criminal investigation into Barclays, with former city minister Paul Myners accurately observing on Newsnight: "This behaviour will only change if people face the prospect of criminal charges." The sense, however, is that most in Westminster are waiting to see how many others banks are implicated - Lloyds and RBS are both under investigation - before showing their hand. With the exception of the Lib Dems' Matthew Oakeshott, Vince Cable's representative on earth, no senior politician has called for Diamond to resign.

Soon, however, the voters will be demanding answers. On tonight's Question Time, you can expect the audience to ask two questions: "why has no one resigned?" and "why hasn't a single banker gone to jail?" The mere announcement that Diamond, presciently described by Peter Mandelson several years ago as the "unacceptable face of banking", and other top executives will not accept bonuses this year (while retaining handsome basic salaries) will do nothing to sate public outrage. And rightly so. As Labour's Chuka Umunna notes on Twitter, "LIBOR is used to calculate interest rates for SME loans, student loans, credit cards etc - manipulation of it would affect most people".

So here is another opportunity for Ed Miliband to show political leadership as he did during the phone-hacking scandal and the row over Stephen Hester's bonus. On such occasions, where Miliband has led, Cameron has followed. If he is to set the political pace again, Miliband should use his speech to Unite's conference to call for Diamond to resign and for a criminal investigation into Barclays. 

Update: As I predicted, Miliband used his speech at Unite's conference to call for "criminal prosecutions" against anyone at Barclays who broke the law, although he did not call for Diamond to consider his position. See my post here for the full quote.

Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond has resisted calls for his resignation. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.