IN PAST centuries, governments stumbled along making up policies with little recourse to consultation beyond empty courtesies. Policy evolved through over-busy ministers taking the advice of their officials.
The pleasure of the Yes, Minister comedy series was its near perfect match with the daily reality. Political parties were largely empty vessels from which no minister seriously sought advice. The first time I can recall an independent commentator receiving praise for his ideas was William Pitt telling Adam Smith all politicians were now his pupils.
It was an elegant compliment but most politicians make their careers out of ignoring the wisdom of Smith, the Great Seer of Economics. They love to provide "free" services whether they be roads, schools or medicines. They love to regulate and tax. The last people to be consulted are those who will pay the tax.
Among the absurdities we have inherited is the council tax, by which we are all forced to pay for services we could all acquire better in the marketplace for a fraction of the cost. So muddled are local authority finances and responsibilities that our brains freeze at such a dreary theme.
Until the 1840s, councils raised their own funds. Now Whitehall has imposed so many duties on town halls that about 80 per cent of their finance comes from the Treasury. Is