The Sketch: Cameron is testing the limits of his influence

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The Independent Online

The Polish Presidents Principle has acquired an amendment, or an extra clause. If you remember, the Polish proposition is that the job of premiership is too big for one person, you need two of them to do what needs to be done. We had that here for a while: Brown manufactured the policy and Blair sold it in. The Milibands could do the same if only they weren't squabbling about who started it and whose turn for the washing up it is.

The Polish principle may apply to parties as well – maybe we need two parties to make one good government. The coalition front bench is more muscular for its Liberals. Hairy David Heath, foxy Chris Huhne, David Laws, and even Nick Clegg actually, forgive the note of surprise.

David Laws made a dazzling debut at the despatch box. His quiet, pessimistic face suggested to the House a certain sort of character-developing experience of life. His voice had texture and authority, he has heart in a way his formidable predecessor Philip Hammond didn't seem to.

Thus, when a Labour MP rehearsed the effects of cuts on the people's lives, Laws agreed it was "a serious and important point" and offered to meet and discuss it. Hammond couldn't have said that as though he meant it. There is texture in the coalition that the Tories can't supply by themselves. And Laws has a complete answer to the question of cuts: There's no money left.

The Tory right pitching this simple idea would find immense electoral resistance. When Laws says it, it comes across as "living within our means". With the right it becomes an ideological vendetta to shrink the size of the state at the expense of children, cancer victims and gay, tortured asylum-seekers.

No wonder Cameron has gone on manoeuvres against his right. Admirable Thatcheritics as they may be (and coalitions need them as well), left to their own devices, they lose elections. It's not completely clear they have internalised their lack of popular appeal.

But nor is their resentment magicked out of the air. "We were told there was no alternative to going as a minority government," one said. "And that wasn't true. Then we were told they'd fight for our policies. That wasn't true either." Yes, right-wing policies were laid down like whist tricks.

"There's a certain steeliness in David," he went on, putting it with that smiling politeness you get on the right. "Our expenses cases were dealt with very differently depending on whether you were close to him or not."

Another Tory, a leadership loyalist, related how the whole party resented Cameron's attempt to get ministers and payroll to vote in the backbench elections to the 1922 Committee. Those who voted against were furious at the motion, and those who loyally voted in favour were just as furious when Cameron backtracked on it.

Who knows what it all means. Nothing happens for one reason, and maybe there isn't even a plan. Possibly Cameron is feeling out the limits of his influence in the party. By winning the 1922 vote and giving the victory back to the losers (something unthinkable in the previous administration) maybe Cameron is stress-testing the party to gauge its limits before getting under way. He's got to make them acceptable to the other Polish President we have.

PS: Further reasons to be cheerful. Yesterday, nobody said: "We'll take no lectures from the party opposite." It is a brave new parliament.

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