The last two months have been among the most interesting of my life. Like most people in Britain, I have been horrified by the transfer of powers, or so-called "competences", from our parliament to the EU. Since I joined the UK Independence Party (Ukip), in January 2007, some members have encouraged me to try for the leadership. When Lord Pearson resigned, I threw my hat into the ring. I was a 50/1 outsider. In the election, the previous leader, Nigel Farage, secured three times as many votes as me and beat me into second place.
I am about to make a confession that I would not have believed possible: I greatly enjoyed the hubbub and tension of competitive politics. I also learned a great deal about my country and its misgovernment. In particular, the experience brought home how important the insights of the Virginia School of Political Economy are to modern political activity.
Its leaders — James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock — did their main work in the 1960s and '70s, but its relevance to understanding the EU's emasculation of our parliamentary institutions is greater than ever.
Buchanan's and Tullock's central point was that the tools of economic analysis can be applied to topics such as politics, bureaucracy, law, etc, as well as to economists' more familiar concerns such as the determination of prices and quantities of goods. When they were writing, an implicit assumption of most public debate was that the government existed to serve the public interest. Therefore, the purpose of political action was Benthamite, to achieve the greatest good of the greatest number.
Their most devastating proposition was that the Benthamite assumption was invalid. Politicians are human beings, not the expressions of "the general will". They are greedy, imperfect and have their own self-interested material aspirations. So in practice, many government decisions are taken with a view to the greatest good of oneself and one's chums.
The balance between the high-minded public interest and low-grade private interests varies over time and between nations. The expenses scandal in 2009 showed that in Britain the balance had moved dangerously in the wrong direction and confirmed the validity of Peter Oborne's analysis in his minor classic, The Triumph of the Political Class (2007): "The civil service, the political parties, the judiciary, the intelligence services and the media have all been captured or compromised." But Oborne was curiously silent on the greatest of these scandals in our era, the capture and compromise of virtually the entire British political system by the EU bureaucracy. Today, most of our legislation, under the alien labels of "directives" and "regulations", emerges from the European Council of Ministers by a mysterious process that only a handful of people in this country understand.