Two stories are running in the papers that are not unrelated.
Firstly, Harman's lunatic proposals to legislate for social mobility. After having thrown billions of tax money at ever more desperate social engineering experiments, Labour still can't admit that you can't achieve social mobility through State diktat. The State can't light in the breasts of the least advantaged the flame of aspiration, and without aspiration nothing will shift them.
Secondly, the findings that local councillors are becoming even older and even whiter, with an average age of 59 and many still serving in their 70s and 80s. As we face local elections in 2009 and 2010, many local parties have become so depleted that they won't even find candidates to stand.
Over the last thirty years, local councils like so many other local institutions have become powerless and have been undermined by a central State determined to impose central bureaucratic control over the minutae of our lives. It's government that determines exactly how many pieces of litter can accumulate in each 100m stretch of our roads. Government that dictates how each hour of each teaching day in each school should be used. Government that sets every petty standard in a poisonous crusade to eliminate all intermediate institutions between atomised individuals and the central State.
Those that still serve as councillors often do so from a sense of duty rather than harbouring any illusion that they can make much of a difference to anything. Small wonder hardly anyone under forty, or women, or minorities feel disposed to waste their time in this way.
The stagnation of social mobility and the baneful decline in the status of intermediate institutions are related. Local institutions offered stepping stones within reach. Social mobility doesn't come from people taking huge leaps but small steps; local networking, local party membership, the real authority of the local church and local professionals, the recognised status of one's MP. When the vicar, the doctor, the solicitor, the local councillor and the bank manager, grounded in their area, familiar with its people and committed to their interests, were figures of local authority they stood on a step of a many-stepped pyramid. They were part of a network of horizontal social ties. Within these local networks, the flame of aspiration could burn. Want to own a car like the local solicitor's? Pass your eleven-plus.
Now that these horizontal ties have been displaced by an impenetrable tangle of vertical threads running from each individual to a distant and malign central State, the pyramid has no steps. Its sides are as smooth as glass. Society stagnates. The parties are dying for want of members. Councils are atrophied. Democracy is corroded.
Unless we start to reverse this ruthless central Statism of the last thirty years we risk losing something infinitely precious.