The bureaucratic power that local authorities wield poses a serious problem for "localism", the doctrine that power should be devolved from central government to local people. Leading politicians are increasingly vocal in their support of "localism". Famously, David Cameron, who dubbed himself "the Man with the Plan" in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference last October, has made it clear that localism is a central part of his plan (it may be the only thing about it that is clear). "I passionately believe we need to localise power," Mr Cameron has said. Even Gordon Brown, who by instinct is an unreconstructed centraliser, has made noises, with as much conviction as he can muster, to the effect that communities need to be "empowered" and power "decentralised".
It is not before time. The enormous growth in central government that has taken place over the past 60 years has happened without any evidence at all that when the State gets bigger, it gets better. Indeed, the whole experience since the Second World War - from the failure of communism to the chronic inefficiencies of the welfare states operated by most developed countries - points in precisely the opposite direction.
If practice suggests that bigger is worse, so too does theory. As Douglas Carswell MP and Daniel Hannan MEP point out in their invaluable new self-published book on localism, The Plan (Douglas Carswell, £9.50) no one has been able to come up with anything to counter Friedrich Hayek's argument, made more than 70 years ago, that officials in central government never possess the amount of accurate information they need to be able to take effective decisions. Even granting the assumption that government officials are all wholly selfless people who want only to choose the option that is best for everyone - an assumption which is not, to put it mildly, enormously plausible - the claim that they are ever in a position to know "what's best" is simply bogus.
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