This week saw arguably the most controversial intervention in this parliament from the SNP, in what is becoming a very competitive category. Despite the Government’s swaggering post-election confidence, their legislative programme is already sailing into troubled waters. Tory plans to alter the fox hunting ban fell victim to a precedent-setting Labour/SNP alliance which sent good Englishmen into a frothing rage. Not only did the SNP break convention by promising to vote on an English-only issue, but they did so in revenge for proposals to lock them out of doing just that. Some (perhaps too) clever observers espied a trap however – did the Tories lay a vote which they knew they would lose to draw out the SNP and bolster support for the interestingly acronymed EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) legislation? We may not find out, but while both EVEL and fox hunting legislation appear to have limped back into the woods for the time being, they will certainly be back before long.
We also saw some final maiden speeches this week, with a particularly notable example coming from Paisley and Renfrewshire’s Mhairi Black. The precocious young nationalist last made headlines at the election by unseating Douglas Alexander, then-Shadow Foreign Secretary, and her speech seems sure to lift her from unseeded wildcard to the major leagues. In a passionate address, yet with an impressively easy manner, Black emphasised the need for bi-partisanship in a progressive opposition. The chattering classes went wild as columnists fell over each other to acclaim the new parliamentary star; however, while Black can clearly give an excellent speech, she assumed that an opposition could only be genuine if it agreed with her particularly left-wing approach. That’s not very bi-partisan is it?
On the other opposition benches, the Labour leadership debate continued as the party tried to decide whether it prefers chin-stroking introspection and Caesarean back-stabbing. As nominations were announced, the inclusion of Jeremy Corbyn was hailed by many as a victory for the ‘real conversation’ and introspection camp, as he would apparently ensure that the left was heard. However, news that private polling currently has him in first place (we all trust the polls, don’t we?) has set pulses racing. If the gossip pages are to be believed, some of Corbyn’s well-intentioned backers are feeling the heat from colleagues who claim an unelectable candidate should never have been on the ballot. The Telegraph certainly seem to agree with the latter; they have endorsed Corbyn in the hope that it will destroy Labour.
Fresh from its surprise deployment at last week’s budget, the Tories’ 2% defence spending pledge was under heavy media scrutiny this week. This bright-eyed new recruit to the Chancellor’s cause was a morale boost to embattled Conservative defence advocates, but after a series of increasingly brutal engagements, it has come out looking rather bruised. The worst of it came over accusations that the Defence Secretary was inflating the defence numbers with a contribution from the Single Intelligence Account. From his performance at defence questions it certainly seemed like he had been hanging out with spooks; Fallon seemed unable to confirm or deny quite where the money will come from.