A secret society?
More than 20,000 people - identified as the next generation of leaders - have attended its courses, but if you are not one of them, you have probably never heard of it.
It is called Common Purpose and prominent supporters include BBC business editor Robert Peston, Assistant Deputy Commissioner Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police and numerous top public sector officials.
It’s a not-for-profit organisation which organises training and networking events for high-fliers.
Its website says “Common Purpose gives leaders the inspiration, the knowledge and the connections they need to produce real change - in their workplaces and in their communities.”
According to one Common Purpose “graduate” who spoke to the BBC, Common Purpose’s activities seem innocent enough: delegates attend a week-long residential course, where the emphasis is on personal development and making new contacts.
She said delegates were encouraged to identify their strengths and weaknesses and were taken on outings to a mental hospital, a prison, a local tenants’ association and the City.
But former naval officer Brian Gerrish, who leads a campaign against Common Purpose, says: “It’s a secret society for careerists. The key point is that the networking is done out of sight of the general public.
“If you actually look at the documented evidence as to what Common Purpose is doing, they are clearly not just a training provider. They are operating a highly political agenda, which is to create new chosen leaders in society.”
The conspiracy theorists think Common Purpose is trying take over the world. They believe it is shaping people to work to its hidden agenda of promoting a European super-state, forcing diversity on British society, and imposing political correctness.
Common Purpose organisers do not deny trying to identify future leaders, but they say their agenda is merely to open up the potential for success to a more diverse range of people.
And the organisation’s website says “we are always balanced and owe no historical or other allegiance to any other group.”
People we have spoken to who have been on Common Purpose courses are frankly perplexed at the accusation that it is all about advancing a European super-state.
Helga Henry, an arts manager from Birmingham, has been on a course: “I’m sort of aware that there’s some controversy and that there are people who believe Common Purpose is fuelled by a pro-EU agenda. But it certainly wasn’t apparent in the course I was on.”
Destined for the top?
But does she think she is part of an elite that will one day be future rulers of the world?
“That would be lovely, wouldn’t it?” she laughs. “If all you had to do is to go on a course to do that, that would be great.”
But there is a bigger question.
Should publically-funded institutions like the police, local authorities and the BBC pay money to a charity to host training courses which are essentially networking opportunities for staff?
Some of the courses cost as much as £5,750.
A Freedom of Information request by Conservative MP Philip Davies uncovered the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions had spent £238,000 sending its people on Common Purpose courses between 2002 and 2007.
Chatham House rule
And while there is no evidence that Common Purpose has anything to hide, it is not the most open organisation.
Its meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule, which means everything that is said in them is unattributable.
However Common Purpose trustee Andrew Cubie told 5 Live that many organisations choose to hold meetings in this way:
“It means that people are very frank. They talk about their failures more than their successes. You get a very good learning process.
“This is about learning, it is not about a networking or membership organisation.”
But although anyone can apply to go on a Common Purpose course, attendees are mainly graduate professionals - and those who are not assessed as having future leader potential will not be accepted.
One critic claims to have uncovered a memo which dismissed the idea of having a particular individual on a local advisory group in Suffolk because he was “too Ipswich”.
There is no credible reason to think Common Purpose is about to take over the world.
But as the organisation’s aim is to identify and train the next generation of leaders, the charges of elitism seem difficult to refute.
Common Purpose Government Infiltrators 9-15-07 Brian Gerrish
Common Purpose New World Order Fifth Column Brian Gerrish 7-08