Cater's Choice

CONFERENCE: Why did my heart sink on reading that the Prime Minister's Council for Social Action and Community Links, Gordon Brown's partner in his production line of clunking books, will hold its first annual international forum on social change, called Chain Reaction, in London in November?

Was it the cringe-making prose, waxing lyrical about the serious intent of the Davos World Economic Forum and the eclectic, magical and innovative sharing of ideas of the Hay Festival of Literature? The cultish psychobabble about "one talent, experience or idea unlocking another, creating massive energy in a chain ... a driving force for change"? The caveat-laden "if our individual actions are reflected in the behaviour of organisations and businesses, and supported by government, then, together, we have the power to change the world" (ie without Downing Street's OK, go whistle)?

We were warned. When he took power, Brown announced "an annual global forum on social leadership which will meet each year to inspire debate, forge links between activists and stimulate the pursuit of social change".

He has a poor score rate when it comes to lobbing unconnected initiatives into our lives, from the Year of the Volunteer to the Experience Corps. So it is a pity that sector umbrella bodies the NCVO and Bassac have booked passage on this ship of fools, while I assume international membership body Civicus and its successful annual global forum on social leadership have sensibly declined.

We may be too late to put a damper on Chain Reaction before it reaches critical mass and does collateral damage for the first and (will anyone re-elect Brown?) last time, but its deserted web forum - just 18 posts last time I checked - at wants our input. Do be honest.

With speakers ranging from newsreader Martyn Lewis to entrepreneur Tim Smit and Comic Relief's Jane Tewson, Chain Reaction costs from £10 to £840 per person, and takes place on 17 and 18 November.

Contact Nick Cater at

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