December 22, 2009 09:40
The Irish Times - Tuesday, December 22, 2009
HENRY KELLY BOOK OF THE DAY: Delane’s War: How Front-line Reports from the Crimean War brought down the British Government , By Tim Coates, Biteback, 259pp £19.99
EARLY IN this fascinating book, Tim Coates tells us what he’s up to: “The four months in 1854 and 1855 about which the pages of this book are to be filled are like items in a treasured box. One might picture this as a little casket upon the top of which is painted the picture of John Delane at his writing desk . . . persons named and a number of others made a contribution to the contents and when the lid is opened their efforts will be available to see.”
John Delane became editor of the London Times at the age of 21. His family lived in Bracknell, Berkshire, where their neighbour was John Walter, the wealthy man who owned the newspaper. Walter’s father had employed Delane’s father as financial manager and when the young Delane showed intelligence and energy, Walter gave him a job.
In almost the blink of an eye, Delane was telling a friend: “By Jove, what do you think has happened? I am editor of the Times !”
Branches of the Delane family were originally from Kilkenny and Roscommon. When Coates catches up with the family it is the journalist who takes his attention. And it is Delane, not just as a writer himself but as an editor with foresight, who saw to it that English Victorian society came to know that its government had sent an ill-prepared, poorly equipped army to war in a remote land.
No, this is not Afghanistan today, this is the Crimea 150 years ago. Delane himself never set foot on the battlefield, but had the good sense to send as reporter a man who had already annoyed the establishment with his reports from Ireland of the 1840s famines. This was an Irish barrister, William Howard Russell.
Russell was the same age as Delane and had impressed him with his humane style from Ireland.
Delane’s view had been that, to be the greatest newspaper, the Times had to have on its staff the best writers, academics and analysts to be found.
Although he was a lawyer, Russell had a brilliant observer’s eye and had so annoyed the English establishment with his famine reports that they referred to him in society as “that wretched fat little Irishman”.
To read Delane’s War is to be led by Coates into a Victorian England where Dickens was writing for the Times and Florence Nightingale was demanding medical supplies for her work in the Crimea; where the industrial revolution, Arctic exploration, the development of electrical phenomena and telegraphic communication were the talking points of the time.
That casket on the top of the desk which Coates keeps an eye on through this book opens to reveal Raglan, Cardigan and Lord Aberdeen, then home secretary who from the outset was the man who provided Delane with accounts of what was going on in government. A home secretary briefing the leading newspaper of the day against his own government? Now there’s a thing.
At the heart of Delane’s War is the awfulness of the Crimea and its most infamous event, the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Coates gives us Russell’s despatch, a description of “the most terrible events in military history”.
Delane’s leading article based on his field reporter’s work was unforgiving. You read it and shudder, remembering maybe that, bearing in mind the mess we are all in today, the only thing men learn from history is that men learn nothing from history.
Hats off and balaclavas too for Coates: a brilliant read with insight, not just into terrible war, but into Victorian society as a whole
December 11, 2009 12:34
On Wednesday this week Biteback's MD Iain Dale and I were in conference at a hotel near Slough made famous by the England football team, presenting next year’s titles to the tireless men and women of Compass DSA charged with getting them into the book shops.
As usual, Compass, led by the redoubtable Alan Jessop and Derek Searle, gave us the benefit of their considerable experience and some valuable feedback from the trade itself, in return for highlights of next year’s crop.
Among the books discussed, How to Cut Public Spending (and still win an election) by Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Listening to his somewhat anaemic Pre-Budget Report on the way back to London I couldn’t help but feel this is a book Chancellor Alistair Darling might make use of on title alone. Also in the mix were memoirs by political figures as diverse as Labour’s Peter Kilfoyle and Nigel Farage of UKIP. Alongside these, some serious political analysis by writers as eminent as The Times’ Peter Riddell, whose Politics: The Case for the Defence will offer a timely and considered re-examination of the British political process; and former BBC political correspondent Nick Jones, whose Campaign 2010 will tell the story of next year’s general election in the voice of one of Westminster’s most seasoned observers.
In April we are publishing Mary K. Blewitt’s You Alone May Live. Mary lost fifty members of her family in the Rwandan genocide – a hundred days of state-sanctioned killing that claimed the lives of up to a million Rwandan Tutsi. The book is harrowing but important, and will come out to coincide with the anniversary of the genocide. The title comes from the story of a woman who was raped in front of her own family, who were then murdered. Her rapist told her, “You alone may live, so that you will die of sadness.” This was a common experience for woman survivors. Mary herself is a remarkable person who has used her experiences to help others. She began the Survivors Fund (SURF) to help Rwandan survivors and was later awarded the OBE.
In July we are set to publish the first part of Michael Smith’s epic history of MI6 and Britain’s external intelligence community. Mick is defence correspondent on the Sunday Times as well as a former intelligence officer and best-selling author of The Spying Game and Station X. He is an expert on espionage and security, with unparalleled contacts within the UK’s intelligence and Special Forces communities. Six: The Real James Bonds will be an exhaustive, anecdote-filled biography of the most secretive of Britain’s secret services.
Lover of the Russian queen? Possibly. Russia’s greatest love machine? Difficult to say, but what’s beyond argument is that love for Rasputin himself was by no means universal. In his book Rasputin: the role of the British secret service in his torture and murder, former Met police Commander Richard Cullen reveals how jealous elements within the Russian court conspired with the pre-cursor of MI6 to have the mad monk eliminated.
Finally, we discussed the mysterious “Book X”, a title potentially so explosive that everything about it must be kept under wraps until it comes out in January next year! All told, 2010 promises to be an exciting and important year for Biteback Publishing. Bring it on!
Sales & Marketing Manager
November 26, 2009 10:53
Please follow the link to listen to the programme again on the BBC iplayer
November 23, 2009 10:16
Art or Science? – certainly not alchemy
Consultation and public engagement – not necessarily the same thing – are now core processes for most if not all public agencies. Statute, good customer focused management practice and common sense dictate that public bodies should consult key stakeholders, especially their service users and those who pay for the services – usually tax payers – before they embark on any significant change to policy or service delivery. One would hope, too, that both national and local politicians would wish to use effective consultation. This is not always the case, but increasingly it is becoming more essential as a critical element of democratic politics.
However, there are some key questions to ask when considering consultation:
• when to consult – at what stage or stages in a developmental process for new policy or service design
• who to consult
• how to consult
• how to use and apply the results of consultation
• when and how to report back to consultees on the outcome of a consultation and why final decisions have been taken
Rhion Jones and Elizabeth Gammell – the founders of and inspiration behind the increasingly respected Consultation Institute - have written a timely and well presented book, “The Art of Consultation”, in which they attempt to answer these and related questions. They have succeeded in their attempt. The book reads well; it is light but has sufficient real, experienced–based, material and arguments; it explains the policy and legislative frameworks for public sector consultation; and it offers practical advice to officials and politicians.
The book defines consultation and explains its place in the wider spectrum of representation; plebiscites, involvement, participation and engagement. It is consultation that excites and drives the authors but they are not dismissive of its allied processes.
Jones and Gammell clearly state that they did not aim to write an academic book which addressed the theory and philosophy of consultation in any depth. Their aim is to help readers with the practicalities of consultation. Inevitably and usefully they do move beyond their self imposed brief to make the case for effective consultation. They describe its value to managers and politicians. They also address the challenge of the relationship between consultation and representative democracy. Whilst they draw primarily on the UK experience and the English public sector, there are some informative references to how the business sector consults and uses customer insight to shape business strategy and delivery.
On reading the book I could hear the authors’ respective voices speaking out as they do at their many seminars and workshops on the subject. I could also hear the voices of their many customers and associates who have worked with The Consultation Institute over the last few years. This makes the words on the pages more authentic.
This is deliberately neither an academic thesis nor a “painting by numbers” hand-holding guide on how to consult. The authors have set out to strike a balance between the “why” and the “how”. They have succeeded.
However, there are some aspects of the book that, in my view, could have benefited from a deeper and longer exploration. These relate to the interface of consultation and representative democracy; how in local government it can enhance the councillor’s actions to promote the interests of constituents, both with her/his own council and with other public agencies. Good consultation can strengthen the politician’s community leadership role. Too many politicians, particularly councillors, still do not understand or accept this. There could and should have been more on the use that politically led scrutiny at local and national level can make of consultation.
Public consultation policy and practice have to adapt to meet new circumstances. It has to be applied to contemporary policy and practice issues such as
• strategic commissioning
• service de-commissioning
• participatory budgeting and budget reduction
• personalisation – its development and delivery
• partnership working and Total Place style approaches
• consulting processes where more than one agency is involved and/or where the public may not understand which agency is involved or leading the process
• procurement and contract management and the use of a range of providers from the public, social enterprise, business and community sectors
• how to hold providers to account using consultation – including potentially putting some of their reward at risk from user and wider stakeholder views of performance and behaviour
• service re-design
The Art of Consultation addressees some of these issues and promotes the principles on which they should be approached. There are limits to the detail and scenarios that can be adequately dealt with in just over 200 pages. Jones and Gammell may have a second edition to write! With a travel budget they could address some more international experience, comparisons and lessons.
In the chapter entitled “Ready…Aim…Miss”, Jones and Gammell have aimed at and hit the target. I would commend this book to local and national politicians, especially council leaders and scrutiny leads, public sector non-executive directors, public officials and managers across the public sector, and those in the business and third sectors working with the public sector. On reading they will soon appreciate the value of effective consultation – and realise that it is more art than science but certainly not alchemy!
November 19, 2009 09:56
Tim Coates, author of Delane’s War, will be speaking about the book at the Idea’s Store Whitechapel
Tuesday 8th December at 7pm
Entry is free
321 Whitechapel Road
London, E1 1BU