On consulting Scientists

  • November 02, 2009 10:19
  • Katy Scholes

If you consult the public, having already made up your mind, you break one of the key principles of The Art of Consultation, for ‘Integrity’ demands that you are open to being influenced.

The row over Professor Nutt illustrates how difficult it can sometimes be to apply this rule. No doubt the Home Secretary (the ‘consultor’ in this case) would claim to be open to advice on many aspects of the problem from its own Advisory Committee (or consultee), but quite correctly asserts for himself the final decision on any specific policy aspect. That is exactly how consultation works.

The problem is that the Professor says that the decision had already been taken, and quotes the Prime Minister to prove the point. If that is indeed the case, then clearly no valid consultation can happen. But is there, I wonder a grey area where politicians feel the need to state a firm policy, whilst still being open to persuasion? Might the Committee’s work still be valuable in stating an alternative view?

If all the Government’s Advisory Committees were sacked this morning just because there was a firm policy which was not quite in line with their thinking, we would see a significant contribution to our looming public expenditure cuts! It won’t happen but we could do with a better understanding of how to consult the scientific community

Rhion H Jones
Elizabeth Gammell

The Art of Consultation is published by Biteback Publications on 16 Nov


Mavis Batey, author of Dilly: The man who broke enigmas

  • October 30, 2009 11:42
  • Katy Scholes

Normally an obituary in The Times would provide a framework for a biography of an important person in any given field, but that simply wasn't true of the one written for my boss at the British wartime codebreaking base at Bletchley Park. This was the wonderfully eccentric but outstandingly brilliant Alfred Dillwyn Knox, known to his many friends and admirers simply as ‘Dilly’.

George Steiner, the American writer and philosopher, has described the codebreaking achievements that took place at Bletchley Park as ‘the single greatest achievement of Britain during 1939-1945, perhaps during the 20th century as a whole’. If that is true, then Dilly’s own achievements must be ranked among the greatest in their own right.

Dilly’s work on the various Enigma ciphers was certainly among the most important and significant carried out at Bletchley. Enigma was not one single cipher machine, as is often suggested, but a family of many different ciphers and it was Dilly and his research section, of which I was a proud member, who were asked to find a way into each new cipher as it appeared.

The failure of his obituary in The Times to do him justice when he died in early 1943 was caused by the absolute secrecy surrounding the work on Enigma. The obituary mentioned that his father was a former Bishop of Manchester; that his brother was Monsignor Ronald Knox, a famous Catholic theologian; and that another brother, ‘Evoe’, was editor of Punch. It also mentioned his work as a Classicist reconstructing the mimes of the Greek poet and playwright Herodas.

What it could not mention was that he was one of the leading members of Room 40, the Admiralty’s celebrated codebreaking section during the First World War, broke Bolshevik ciphers during the 1920s and 30s, and Enigma ciphers during the Spanish Civil War and Second World War. What it would certainly not have been possible to mention, even without the understandable secrecy, was that Dilly’s greatest triumph had not even taken place when the obituary was written.

Shortly before he died, in great pain from the cancer, Dilly broke the Enigma cipher used by the German secret service, the Abwehr. It was this that allowed MI5 and MI6 to manipulate the intelligence the Germans were receiving through the Double Cross System and fool them into leaving too few troops in Normandy to counter the allied landings.

Now that many more previously secret records have been released into the archives, I have at last had the chance to give my old boss the credit he deserves. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu in seeing once more the same secret enemy messages that we handled over sixty years ago, but then the secrecy was such that even I was unaware of the effect Dilly’s work had on the allied success in the war. I was determined in writing this book to ensure that what Dilly did was never forgotten.


Rhion Jones, co-author of The Art of Consultation

  • October 27, 2009 13:25
  • Katy Scholes

The Art of Consultation was a book waiting to be written!

Over ten thousand public servants in the UK – and many others in the private and voluntary sectors – engage in formal consultations, and it’s time their efforts were celebrated, and their challenges properly addressed.

There’s a multi-million pound industry out there, currently asking us what we think. Lots of this is public money, and we believe much of it is wasted. Whilst a great deal of consultation is seriously effective, some of it is downright dishonest; decision-makers have already made up their minds. If they then consult, it’s a waste of everyone’s time; they are just going through the motions. That’s all!

In The Art of Consultation, we’ve tried hard to describe the consultation culture that has engulfed us all. We’re honest about what goes wrong, but we’re also enthusiastic in seeing so much that goes right. There is a positive future for the best in consultation, and we finish our analysis in optimistic mode, for only by engaging with people – as customers or citizens, can some of our most intractable social and political problems be fixed. That makes it important for everyone involved in these decisions. This book is for them ... and for all of us who wish to influence them.


Tim Coates, author of Delane's War

  • October 22, 2009 12:26
  • Katy Scholes

I imagine most writers sit, like I do, at the laptop wondering what comes next- until it comes in a bus load. Delane's War took a long time to write. It started when I came across some official Government reports about Florence Nightingale which complained, with evidence to support the objections, that she was procuring huge quantities of port wine for the use of her patients in the hospital at Scutari during the Crimean War.They were drunk to avoid the pain of death. Those comments come from a Select Committee report of 1855 which is in five volumes, in the last few paragraphs of which she is named as one of the handful people who had acted, in the view of the Committee members, honourably in the appalling events into which they had been asked to inquire.

I followed the trail back, not just for her but for the other people on that short list, of whom I had never heard. There was the Reverend and Honourable Sidney Godolphin Osborne, who turned out to be the vicar of a tiny parish church in Dorset, but who wrote letters to The Times and frequently had them printed. Augustus Stafford the independent MP for Northampton who had travelled to the Crimea to observe for himself the appalling events in the war zone, and John MacDonald the printing engineer of The Times newspaper who had been sent out to administrate The Times Fund - which had been set up by the editor to help bring comfort to the soldiers injured and made sick in the war. The assembly of the stories of all the people gave many possibilities for the tale that needed to be written; the Rev Osborne, when asked about supplies that failed to reach the Crimea, told the committee that he believed that the whole subject should be handed to the police to investigate.

Florence Nightingale, from what I was reading, was most certainly not the angelic lady of the lamp we have all been told about in school and the writings and speeches of Augustus Stafford could hold their own anywhere. But the siftings and tellings of the story in the end all pointed to the person who was driving the moral backlash against the government and the army and he, too, was someone lost in the obscurity of Victorian history: John Delane the editor of The Times, who never put his own name to any article. I then read the daily editions of the great newspaper in the original copies that are held, neatly and magnificently bound in the basement of the London Library, from July 1854 to March 1855. And from these the real story became clear: it was the editor who had fought his own war against the Government of the day, in a way that showed courage almost beyond our experience and conception. I was writing this at the same time that the Blair Government and Alastair Campbell were locked in battle with the BBC and Andrew Gilligan over the reporting of the Iraq war, and the story each day was almost identical -- except that in the version of 1855, the journalists held out to win, which sadly was not the case one hundred and fifty years later.


Biteback Publishing

  • September 11, 2009 12:07
  • Katy Scholes

Biteback Publishing is a major new political & current affairs publisher. Born in July 2009 and 85% owned by Biteback Media, the publisher of the monthly political magazine, Total  Politics , Biteback is composed of three distinct imprints: Dialogue, Total Politics and Biteback itself. Dialogue publishes books on contemporary history and current affairs with a strong international flavour, whilst Biteback publishes more general current affairs titles, including biography, history humour and political fiction, and Total Politics is concerned with specialist political and reference titles.

Biteback is strictly non-partisan and was created to fill a cavernous gap in the world of political publishing. So few people are publishing political books nowadays. Larger publishers will only publish a book if they think it will sell at least 10,000 copies, while smaller and medium sized publishers have been gobbled up by bigger ones. As a consequence, the kinds of books we believe to be important are not being published any longer.

Biteback already has an impressive range of writers and new books across its various imprints - from Anthony Seldon's Trust: How we lost it and how to get it back, which is fast becoming the political book of the Autumn, to Dilly: The man who broke Enigmas - the hitherto untold story of Alfred Dillwyn Knox, whose work at Bletchley Park helped to end the Second World War. Ranging somewhat esoterically from The Total Politics Guide to the 2010 General Election, through to the Yes Minister Miscellany, all of Biteback's titles are linked by our dedication to publishing the highest calibre books on politics and current affairs.