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Tonight’s battle against apathy was being valiantly waged by the good men and women of GlobalNet21 (aka the 21st Century Network). Yours truly and a handful of my fellow ‘switched on’ citizens enjoyed an audience with Dave Clements, a social policy professional and community activist,  Peter John, a professor in Politics and Public Policy at UCL, and journalist Patrick Chalmers (who made his contribution by means of a pre-recorded interview). Their subject: the role of government and changing public attitudes and behaviour – yes, that old chestnut.

It is impossible to review a meeting of GlobalNet21 without tipping my cap to its founder and esteemed moderator, Frances Seeley. He has run the group, which boasts a modest 4,424 members, for the last four years and works tirelessly to, in his own words, “can get people together who share similar values and maybe even start similar groups up elsewhere”. I’ve known about the group for some time, but this was my first visit and Frances was very much on top form tonight.

The debate itself revolved around the question of whether the government has any business trying to change people’s behaviour and for that matter, whether they risk doing more harm than good by intervening. All three panelists appeared to share an inherent scepticism towards government intervention ranging from Peter, who asserted that it should focus on the small problems that are easily solved such as communicating more openly and efficiently with the public, to Patrick, who advocated the restriction of the state to its most basic functions such as national security etc, and finally to Dave, who pilloried all attempts by the state to changed the behaviour of its citizenry as being profoundly undemocratic.

The audience was also given more than a fair crack at the whip to have their say with the lenient (sometimes too lenient) Frances ensuring everybody was given as much time as possible to make their case from the floor. However, the recurring rumbling of trains passing underneath our King’s Cross venue was often rather distracting.

What is immediately clear about GlobalNet 21 is that their pre-occupation is more with policy and how to make the world a better place than it is with public speaking or debating itself. Indeed, I am more inclined to describe them as a think tank than a speakers’ club or events company. Definitely worth a try if the pub just isn’t cutting it any more as a platform of inspired debates and ideas. More importantly, by providing a welcoming forum for people to air their views on the issues most important them, they are doing their bit to remove the glove of apathy into which evil slips it hand.

You can find out more about GlobalNet21 at http://www.globalnet21.org/

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