She spoke of giving a voice to the voiceless -- and then she lost her voice. A comedian handed her a P45, and the stage set started collapsing before she had croaked her way to the end of her speech.
Apart from that, Theresa May's make-or-break appearance at the Tory party conference in Manchester was a triumph. Well, no, in fact, it wasn't. Even without the chapter of calamities for which the prime minister could hardly be blamed, her speech was utterly dismal.
Listening to her, I was reminded variously of John Major (a series of underwhelming policy announcements), Iain Duncan Smith (the cough) and Ed Miliband (some good ideas unimpressively delivered) -- three of the least impressive public speakers of the post-war era. The best that could be said of her was that -- like them -- she was dogged in the face of adversity. She may, as she likes to claim, not be a quitter -- but that doesn't mean she won't soon be gone.
We knew she was weak politically. In Manchester, she looked -- and sounded -- frail physically. OK, it was just a cold and a cough, but politics is a cruel business. Optics matter. And the optics for Theresa May were terrible. If a script-writer had provided for the letters to start dropping off the party slogan behind her as she spoke -- 'Bui ding a c ntry tha orks or ryon ' -- an editor would have thrown it back. Don't over-egg it, kiddo.
To say it was painful to watch is like saying Boris Johnson perhaps lacks certain diplomatic skills. Yes, of course one can feel sympathy for a fellow human being under pressure -- the vultures are circling, and a frog has settled in her throat. But her party will not quickly forgive what she did to them last June -- and whatever side of the Brexit debate you're on, I doubt that you're filled with confidence about how she is handling the negotiations.
Ah yes, Boris Johnson. A man who -- like Donald Trump -- plainly hates his job. Why can't I say what I want any more? Why can't I display my bigotry whenever I feel like it? The people love me, so why are my colleagues and the media so horrid to me?
On the one hand, Johnson extols the virtues of a country that, as he put it, 'welcomed my ancestors from France, Russia, Turkey and heaven knows where ... that is proud of the EU and other nationals that want to come here and that have enriched our lives.'
And on the other, he dismisses in a grotesquely offensive quip the appalling death toll in Libya since the overthrow and murder of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. (The city of Sirte could be a great centre for tourism and business, Johnson said -- 'the only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away.')
This is the man who composed a piece of doggerel in which he called President Erdoğan of Turkey a 'wankerer', simply because it rhymed with Ankara -- and who thought it was fun to recite a piece of colonial tosh by Rudyard Kipling while visiting the Buddhist Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, where they're not keen on being reminded about British colonial rule. ('Not appropriate,' muttered an embarrassed UK ambassador within earshot of the TV cameras. Indeed.)
Until Mrs May's cough, the P45 prankster, and the collapsing stage set, Johnson was the prime minister's number one problem. Ever since the Tories' election debâcle last June, her credibility has been dangling by a thread. Johnson has been furiously tugging at it with his serial acts of disloyalty; now, circumstances have conspired to fray that thread even further.
If she hangs on, it'll be for one reason and one reason alone. Her party can't think of anyone who they'd prefer. I suspect Jeremy Corbyn is smiling contentedly as he does some gentle digging in his allotment.