She has no authority. As she began her statement on the Withdrawal Bill, there was a note of suppressed panic in her voice.
By the time she was halfway through, she had steadied down, but there was considerable background chat, for MPs had concluded she had nothing new to say.
Benjamin Disraeli would have done something dramatic, perhaps an outrageous offer to Labour backbenchers, if Labour backbenchers were by now the only people who could save him. He would have made it enjoyable for them to annoy Jeremy Corbyn, who would have been made to look ridiculous.
Theresa May did nothing dramatic. That is not her style. She made the trifling concession of a vote on a second referendum, while restating in the most humdrum terms her opposition: “What would it say about our democracy? What forces would it unleash?”
It has not, unfortunately, unleashed any forces in her. On the Labour benches, Hilary Benn looked restless and dissatisfied, and shook his head. On the Tory benches, Jacob Rees-Mogg leaned so far back he was almost horizontal, and twiddled his thumbs.
She tried a note of pathos: “In time another Prime Minister will be standing at this Dispatch Box.”
As far as most of her own troops are concerned, that time cannot come soon enough. And for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn is now in full election mode. At PMQs, he asserted that the Tories only care about private schools – another bit of the class war he intends to wage.
When replying to May’s statement, he said no compromise he reached with her “would survive the upcoming Tory leadership contest”, claimed she “only has days left in her job”, and ended: “It’s time for a general election to break the Brexit deadlock and give the country a say.”
May tried to put him on the spot by asking, lamely, if he is for or against Brexit. That is unfortunately a question which many members of the public have asked about her. They think she is against Brexit – after all she voted Remain – and that she is sabotaging the project.
No one of any significance came to May’s aid. The officer corps on the Tory benches – Iain Duncan Smith, Owen Paterson, Johnny Mercer, Bob Stewart and Mark Francois – had already given her a very hard time at PMQs on the prosecution of elderly Northern Ireland veterans, for whose welfare they feel, quite rightly, responsible.
Caroline Flint warned, from the Labour benches, that supporting May’s deal is the only way to guarantee that the UK leaves the EU with a deal.
When Flint spoke up for May’s deal, Rory Stewart, the International Development Secretary, said “hear hear” from the Government front bench, as did Robert Buckland, who has succeeded him as Prisons Minister, and Jeremy Quin, a whip. Here at least was a show of fighting spirit, but not from May’s most senior colleagues.
And scores of Flints will be needed if May is to get her deal through, but of those there was no sign. A number of thoughtful Labour MPs wondered if Tory MPs will be allowed a free vote on various crucial questions. The Opposition’s price for supporting her will most likely be one she is unable to afford.
The Tory benches, never full, soon emptied as May took questions on her statement. By the end, there were very few Conservatives behind her, and one had the feeling she was just going through the motions, rather as a sick patient may continue with a course of treatment without either her or those around her having any real faith that it will work.
Jacob Rees-Mogg asked whether as she goes through this “folderol”, she is “going through the motions or does she really believe it?”
The answer, perhaps, is that she still hopes something will turn up, but that neither she nor anyone else can see any sign of it.