Sittingbourne-based Chalkwell is putting live tracking data on its website so parents, pupils and schools can see in real time on a map, precise locations of all its home-to-school buses.No login is required to see the open data.In September Chalkwell starts new services from Sheppey and Iwade, direct to Sittingbourne, under a new Island Buses brand.There are also additional buses serving Lower Halstow and Upchurch due to increased demand.Chalkwell Commercial Director Roland Eglinton says: “Travelling to and from school is an important part of a child’s day and for those starting secondary school in September the process of catching the bus might be a bit daunting.“The new website feature provides important peace of mind for existing users and those starting school.”
Further complicating Axelrod’s task is the fact his opponents can make a good guess at what Axelrod will do. Looking to the new world for their own inspiration, the Tories have hired Jim Messina to be their American guru. Obama’s 2012 campaign manager may be less well-known than Axelrod but he is hardly, if you will, chopped liver.Messina vs. Axelrod is a delicious story, of course, but it is also telling that the Tories, for so long closely identified with the Republican Party, now look to Democrats, not Republicans, for advice. It was an open secret in London that many Tories wanted Obama to win in 2008 and 2012. The right wing of the modern Democratic Party has as much, and perhaps more, in common with Cameron’s brand of Conservatism as does the current GOP. The Republican brand remains toxic overseas.Then again, British politics, like British soccer, is a marketplace to which all are welcome. Messina is a long-distance adviser to the Conservatives but the Tory election campaign will be driven by the Australian strategist Lynton Crosby, the man credited with chaperoning John Howard to four election victories Down Under. Crosby is renowned as a tough operator happiest when creating clear divides between candidates. The Tory campaign will endlessly repeat the mantra that Labour, in power from 1997-2010, failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining, leaving the Tories to do it while it was raining. Ed Miliband, we will be reminded, was part of that Labour government, which was in large part doomed by the 2008 financial crisis. The Tories will make much of Miliband’s role as a confidant of then-PM Gordon Brown.And yet the more one ponders all this, the more one realizes that the “read across” from American to British politics usually obscures as much truth as it illuminates. In general, Britain does not suffer from the culture wars that so afflict or dominate American politics. Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition has championed – and made legal – gay marriage, for instance. Wedge issues that inspire voters in the United States simply do not exist in socially liberal Britain. It is harder to slice and dice the electorate along demographic lines, too.So what accounts for what one might dub the West Winging of Westminster? In part it is a tribute to the fact that American elections are conducted on such a grand – or grandiose – scale. Everyone in British politics knew who David Axelrod was long before he was lured to help Labour. An astonishing number of people in Britain’s political and media elite have heard of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.But Axelrod’s hiring reminds us of something else too. It demonstrates an enduring faith in the theory that behind-the-scenes Svengalis can influence or otherwise direct election outcomes. The Great Men in our politics these days are not the fellows (and occasional woman) running for election but the strategists and consultants directing operations behind the curtain. These are the guys – and they are invariably guys – who own the patent to the “secret sauce” that wins elections. Fundamentals matter less than the spin put upon them. (But if you want spin put upon these things, it’s best to hire a foreigner. Britain, more than almost any other Western country, is open to business and indifferent to national origins. When the present government need a new governor for the Bank of England it hired Mark Carney, a Canadian. Colonials, lapsed or current, still have a place in the Old Country.)The Great Man theory of politics, of course, gets it backwards. The post hoc proper hoc fallacy has been leveraged to great effect by an army of American political consultants who bask in the credit of political victories in the USA and parlay that into lucrative fees for advising election campaigns overseas. Washington people specialize in claiming disproportionate dollops of credit but few are as expert in this field as the political consultant who struck gold once and made a living from that bounty ever since. Sometimes, you know, you just get lucky with the candidate. This is unfortunate, not least since his biography involves a story worth telling. His Jewish parents fled Nazi persecution and found safety in Britain, where his father joined the Royal Navy and saw some modest wartime service. In the United States this might be fodder for an inspirational hymn to the opportunities afforded by the American Dream – but in quieter, more modest, Britain such talk might be seen as undue bragging. It cuts less mustard.Besides, Miliband’s father Ralph was a prominent Marxist intellectual and pillar of the radical left at the London School of Economics. Young Edward grew up in a left-wing salon that, to the extent such places can ever be considered fashionable, was tres à la mode in certain circles. Cameron, by contrast, is an impeccably connected scion of the British establishment. He is the most upper-class prime minister in half a century. In theory, Miliband should win the “battle of biography” but it is harder to present yourself as an outsider when you are an Oxford, LSE and Harvard man.If the candidate matters more – or even as much as – the message then this is a fight the Tories will welcome. They are happy to see the 2015 election become a presidential-style contest between Cameron and Miliband. The Conservatives believe that despite Cameron’s status as a “toff” he comes across as phlegmatic, competent and reasonable. Miliband, they think, puts voters off. They do not see the Labour leader as “prime ministerial” – a quality that, like pornography, is harder to define than recognize. If the election is a “likeability” or “who would you choose to have a pint with” contest, the Tories think they will win. Though the comparison should not be taken too far there are shades, in this respect at least, of Bush vs. Gore here.To borrow another American political analogy, the campaign will also be about the economy, stupid. Despite Labour’s overall lead in the polls, Cameron’s Conservatives enjoy an 18-point advantage on questions of economic credibility. With the economy recovering – growth this year is forecast to outstrip that of most comparable Western economies – the Tory message will be simple: Do you trust the party that helped fix the economy or the party that was in power when it was wrecked in 2008?Labour’s strategy rests on the assertion, by no means unfounded, that the recovery was stalled by the Conservatives’ preference for austerity over stimulus. Miliband talks endlessly of a “cost of living crisis” afflicting the “squeezed middle” and his flagship policy is imposing a state-mandated freeze on fast-rising electricity prices charged by private power companies. (Skeptics might think this a time-limited means of combating a symptom more than it can be a cure for an underlying condition, but skeptics are told to shut up and concentrate on the bigger picture.)Part of Axelrod’s mission will be to help sharpen Labour’s message. The party still lacks, in American parlance, a persuasive bumper-sticker slogan. A large part of Axelrod’s reputation was built on the notion he could “package” African-American candidates for white voters, and this has always struck me as something that demeaned both the candidate and the electorate but, perverse though it may seem, his challenge is to do something similar for Miliband. That is, he must sell a metropolitan policy wonk to suspicious suburban voters. The scale of the challenge is different than that Axelrod faced with Obama but so, frankly, is the scale of the candidate for whom he is working. You need not even be that successful, given how much in thrall the rest of the political world is to the shamen claiming credit for American electoral success. Frank Luntz, for instance, regularly appears on British television to dispense his wisdom and few people ever pause to suggest that Luntz – the kind of chap you’d hire to persuade fools that red can be “framed” as blue and vice versa – is an operative who gives honest charlatans a bad name. He gives good quote, however, and that’s often enough.It seems unlikely that Axelrod will hurt Labour’s campaign any more than Messina will hurt the Conservatives. Nonetheless it seems equally implausible that either man will provide the magic secret sauce that leads their guy to victory. This will not be their fault – not least since the rewards consultants claim for victory are always greater than the demerits they receive for defeat (just ask Bob Shrum about that) – but because neither Labour nor the Conservatives enjoy an obvious supremacy at present.Nor is it clear any secret or magic sauce actually exists. But perhaps it is precisely because most people think the 2015 election will produce no overall winner that both main parties are willing to spend whatever it takes to hire the best – or at least most expensive – American talent to help them closer to the winning post. Messina and Axelrod can agree on one thing, however: Neither Cameron nor Miliband is an Obama, and the next British election will be a fat payday more than it will be a moment to make history.This article was first published on Politico.com on 20/4/2014. The candidate is the message.” This, more than anything else, is the soundbite encapsulation of David Axelrod’s long and distinguished career as a political strategist and campaign consultant. It is an aphorism that will be tested like never before in Axelrod’s newest campaign. For Axelrod has hitched his (well-paid) colors to the task of steering the Labour Party’s Ed Miliband to Downing Street.The leader of Britain’s opposition has an image problem on a scale that dwarfs anything Axelrod endured with Barack Obama. Without wishing to seem indelicate, Miliband’s problem is that he seems, well, a bit of a weirdo. Voters might agree with his analysis of Britain’s problems but they seem disinclined to trust Miliband to put matters to rights. He has never enjoyed Obama-style approval ratings. Even though Labour still leads the polls — though its advantage is narrowing – Miliband’s personal approval ratings remain subterranean. One recent survey reported his net approval rating at -14, even worse than Prime Minister David Cameron’s -10 figure.While it is just about plausible to imagine Miliband offering “change,” it is considerably more difficult to envisage him inspiring “hope.” He is too nebbishy for that. The 44-year-old Miliband, who was elevated to the leadership on the back of labor union votes, is tougher than he looks — which is just as well – but not the kind of authority figure who instantly commands either respect or the benefit of the doubt. One recent poll claimed 41 percent of voters consider Miliband “weird.” He is seen, fairly or not, as the class swot who is bullied; the clever kid who gets sand kicked in his face on the beach. A wimp, and an odd one at that.