In office, but not in power

We really ought to feel sorry for Theresa May. 

She so desperately wanted to be Prime Minister, and then it turned out she's not very good at it.

For months, she'd seemed invincible -- until she was actually tested. Surrounded by fractious and at times abusive advisers who did her more harm than good, their over-protective nature bred an arrogance in Downing Street.

That arrogance shone through the election campaign -- the voters saw it, and punished her for it.

Theresa May suffers from the same flaws that bedevilled Gordon Brown when he moved into Number 10. Technically competent in charge of an important, but unglamorous, government department, she arrived in the top job without ever having displayed the empathy or showbiz sparkle now demanded by the voters.

Voters don't need to like a Chancellor or Home Secretary, they just need to trust them to do their jobs. Prime Ministers, by contrast, need a little love, and not everyone has that undefinable quality.

Now, Mrs May finds she is just about managing to cling on to her job, but her position has weakened so much there is nothing she can do with it.

Powerless as her Cabinet bickers in public, we are told she has read them the riot act, ordered them to get on with their jobs. It will make no difference, because she no longer has any authority over them.

"Sack the troublemakers" cry the backbenches. Were she to do that, there'd be almost no-one left around the Cabinet table. And her newly emboldened enemies would have her out within days.

Theresa May remains in office because, right now, no-one else calculates it's worth pushing her out. She's the ultimate fall girl, there to take the blame for everything that goes wrong.

This is her last service to the Conservative Party, and she performs it in the full knowledge that they will throw her under the bus at the first opportunity -- the instant Tory MPs sense a rival offers a better prospect, her time in Number 10 will be over.

Until then, she's forced to linger in the country's most important job, drained of both power and credibility.

25 years ago, Norman Lamont accused John Major of being "in office, but not in power". It's even more true of Theresa May.