The abiding dilemma with politics is how much is cock-up and how much is conspiracy. Let's take the fox-hunting bill as an example, first of all as a cock-up.
The Tories have a problem with their back-benchers (especially those of the red-meat persuasion). There is a residue of resentment from the way that the Labour Party forced through the fox hunting ban back in 2004, especially the none-too-subtle elements of class war
that came with it. Since with his majority of 16 David Cameron is going to have to rely on his fractious back-benchers to get key legislation trough this Parliament, why not throw them a bone early? There's a problem, in that the ban is fairly totemic for the Labour Party, and there are enough Tory antis
to prevent it getting through a vote of the full house, but this shouldn't be a problem because the fox-hunting bill only affects England and Wales, where the Tories have a thumping majority. Into this stump the SNP, announcing that they will oppose the ban being relaxed
and forcing the Government to pull the motion
Results: Egg on face all round, Government looks weak and pusillanimous. SNP look like king-makers, and Labour get to keep their ban. Now, let's look at this again as a conspiracy.
The Tories have a long-term aim of instituting English Votes for English Laws, but certain back-benchers are unhappy about the means of getting there
. A free vote on relaxing the fox-hunting ban was in the Tory manifesto
, but the last thing David Cameron wants is endless wrangling about toffs on horseback. The SNP have used fox-hunting frequently as a perfect example of a bill which only affects England, and which they would therefore never vote on
. However, it was always likely that they would be unable to resist stirring the pot by embarrassing the Government.
The result is a bill that plainly and obviously only affects England, but that the SNP go into linguistic contortions to justify voting against. At a stroke the 'self-denying convention' that the SNP have talked about in the past (partly as a reason EVEL is unnecessary) is blown forever. The need for EVEL (as far as the Tories are concerned) is clearer than ever. The back-bench Tories who have been most troublesome over EVEL are also among the most pro-hunting.
Result: SNP look duplicitous, hypocritical and a bit ridiculous. The Government has a concrete example of why EVEL is required, and its back-bench doubters have had a prize objective taken away from them because it hasn't been introduced yet.
Usually the answer to these questions is cock-up. I'm not so sure this time.