So an essential pre-condition for any move to increase the volume of the exchange in goods and services is a harmonisation of regulatory frameworks, standards of measurement, trades descriptions, tariffs and taxes etc. Historically, it speeded the consolidation of the nation state, and, of course, the EU is largely the result of the postwar European demand for growth and stability through increased inter-trading.
This finds an echo in public demands for even standards of public service. If a Mancunian can get that boil on his bum lanced by a pretty nurse within an hour of presenting it, why the hell can't a Cockernee expect the same service? Thus we commonly hear of popular campaigns against postcode lotteries - campaigns that are always bought-off with centrally-set targets.
Another cause is a minor crisis in the legitimacy of professionals, brought about partly by a political decision to control inflation by challenging producer interests in a concerted way, and partly by the willingness of some liberal professionals to assist this process by repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot.
A further cause is the declining legitimacy of local government. No-one knows who their councillors are, few vote, the quality and competence of local officials (elected and otherwise) is questioned. The media ignore them anyways and seek to sell any story they do decide to cover by making charges stick to a more recognised target. Media consolidation means that there is a smaller and smaller local press, and a highly competitive global media will always offer shinier distractions. Would that a the residents of Penge could read as much about a local election in Penge as they can about the Democrat primaries!
So if a failing in local government can be blamed on the national government, (and only national journalists report local government anyway) it will be. And if council taxes go too high, central government will suffer from the non-specific dissatisfaction that most people feel when they notice that they have less beer-money.
So - leaving nothing to chance, central government behaves rationally. It says to itself "if I'm going to be blamed because local government looks crap, I might as well make sure that I'm been seen to be doing everything I can to make Town Halls raise their game." And "if I'm going to get the blame for a decline in education standards / unpopular sentencing .... etc " and so on.
The fly in the ointment is, of course, assertive local politicians and outspoken professionals. And so much of the way public life is conducted can be understood in the context of the need to marginalise and neuter these voices. Thus ratecapping. Thus sentencing guidelines. Thus SATS. Thus The Standards Board.
The judiciary and the police have, in different ways, suffered as a result of this process. There are more forms to fill in - ask PC Copperfield. Parliament is being gradually neutered in the same way, and it has seen much of the power that it has sucked up to itself evaporate in the general direction of the cabinet (who in turn have to compete with stronger PM's policy units, co-ordinating departments, and the other arms of the core executive.
This last point relates to another - more two-way - symptom of centralisation. In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher had a particular fear that her officials were irretrievably 'liberal-bureaucratic'. She wasn't prepared to accept the Mandarin's mantra that they were simply doing their job properly by being independently minded.
The PM (specifically, Mrs T) wanted the civil service to damn well do something instead of obstructing every reform she proposed. So she embarked upon a campaign to remove the least compliant people in Whitehall and replace them with officials more to her taste. It worked. And - in the same way that Mrs T fought to stop her ministers from suffering departmental capture, she also ensured that she poisoned any wells that she was forced to relinquish to her enemies.
I know that I'm practically alone in saying this, but this was Tony Blair's greatest mistake - his greatest failing or his greatest betrayal (you decide). A long way before May 1997, he should have looked at the officialdom that he was going to inherit and he should have plotted the purge.
Instead, he left Labour ministers to tackle a the Whitehall that John Major left behind. Not card-carrying Tories, mind, but mandarins that were well-disposed to blend what they'd learned at the hands of their Thatcherite nannies with Labour's priorities. So political centralisation isn't even the hoovering up of power into the hands of the current Prime Minister.
Departmental capture. And ... hey presto! Managerialism. Labour stuck to much more than Tory spending limits - and for much longer than two years.
Lefty conspiracy theorists can credibly claim that this was no oversight on new Labour's part, and that Tony was always a Tory entrist. And I'd struggle to offer a good counter-argument. But I digress here.
My point is that political centralisation is systematic. It's a function of late capitalism. It is caused by a range of social and economic factors. Public discourse largely ignores this, and a strategic long-term assault on centralisation would find no takers in the UK at the moment.
This systematic trajectory is largely immune to short term party-politics. It was Mrs Thatcher that signed the Single European Act - not Harold Wilson or Jim Callaghan. For the most part, Labour have continued Tory attacks on creativity in the classroom and pluralism in local government.
I say all of this now, partly as a second answer to our Shuggy. Because I find so many of the charges of illiberalism that are leveled at the politicians of this government hard to stomach - not because we don't have a government that is really tending to be quite illiberal - but because I've been in the Labour Party man-and-boy for nearly thirty years, and in opposition, it was overwhelmingly liberal-minded. I'm really not convinced that illiberal government is the result of politicians ignoring the urges of liberals.
There was always a less limp-wristed streak in our heartlands of course, but new Labour was largely a triumph of metropolitan centrists and old Labour roundheads. But when you read our only-on-the-internet bloggertarians saying that this is all the product of socialism, you have to reply: Yeah - I wish!
Oh, and that post of Shuggy's that I'm replying to here - it has developed the usual bloggertarian infestation in it's comment thread. Have a look at Bishop Hill's contribution. You'd think that a libertarian would be well swayed by the argument that 'it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government gets in.' When you read that centralisation is a function of a Labour government, you know you're reading a Tory, not a libertarian. It's a bit like that VI Form essay question in the early 1980s:
"Exactly how much of a tosser was Lord Hailsham when he described a LABOUR government as an elective dictatorship?"