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How precarious the Prime Minister still sounds. She did not fold, but nor did she raise her game.

When they got the chance, her backbenchers cheered her in a solid enough way, but she did not raise their spirits either. Conservatives know well enough they prefer her to Jeremy Corbyn – a judgement with which a majority of Labour MPs still agree.

But gone are the days when she could sweep Corbyn aside as a ludicrous leftie, a marginal figure who will never get anywhere. She instead finds herself stuck in a demeaning battle of attrition against an opponent who has shown that in the eyes of the voters, he is not as absurd as the pollsters and pundits thought when she called the general election.

Corbyn quoted John Major’s description of Universal Credit as “operationally messy” and “socially unfair”. In reply, May offered underwhelming words delivered in an underwhelming way.

The Prime Minister is one of the least eloquent leaders the Conservative Party has ever had. She can defend a fixed position with tenacity, but a war of movement, of the kind which may well erupt in the closing stages of the Brexit negotiations, is not quite her thing.

At the end of their exchanges, she lobbed a grenade at Corbyn: “What did we see from the Labour Party at their conference?” But this was clearly a counter-attack which had been devised in case her opponent made explicit reference to the Conservative conference, which he had been astute enough not to do.

So the Prime Minister needlessly reminded people that Labour’s conference had gone somewhat better than her own, after which there was so much noise she had to repeat the question twice more before getting to her attack lines.

Perhaps in time the war of attrition will turn in her favour. But the thought of a prolonged period of this kind of leadership cannot be a very cheery one for the hunched and sombre figure at the Dispatch Box, let alone for her troops.

70 comments for: Andrew Gimson’s Commons sketch: May’s war of attrition fails to raise Tory spirits

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