“When sorrows come, they come not single spies /But in battalions”
Had Glenn Hoddle been in attendance at the Tory leader’s speech yesterday, he would probably have judged that Theresa May was paying for some terrible misdeeds in a previous incarnation. Was it the hunger for publicity that sent the comedian with the P45 up to Mrs May in mid-speech, or was it – as he so convincingly claimed – Boris Johnson? Was it the bad cold from which the British PM was suffering, as on psychologist suggested to me, that the coughing fit was her inner censor trying to stop her telling lies? Did the letters f and o fall off the Tory slogan on the wall behind her because they’d been attached by lazy workers or did some demon reach up and flick them free? So many questions, so much pain.
The loyal (for now) troops rallied around her afterwards. Her husband gave her a full-body squeeze, Boris Johnson babbled some half-hearted nonsense about the marvellous speech and Amber Rudd, who wore an expression not unlike that of Lady Macbeth as she tried to wash the blood from her hands. Even Arlene Foster got in on the act, saying how well her coalition partner had done.
Before this, the pundits were giving Theresa an early bath – eighteen months, shortly after Christmas. Now, once the burst of pity has spent itself, it must surely be a matter of weeks.
Or must it? Sometimes leaders of political parties climb free of the wreckage and carry on as though nothing had happened. Remember Peter Robinson, hoarse of voice even as Theresa was, in that awful to-the-camera broadcast, where he tried to wear the horns of the cuckold gracefully, spoke like Theresa in a hoarse voice and made sure the “Best Dad In The World” card behind him was included in the shot. Or Arlene Foster, when the RHI flames were burning at her foot like some modern Joan of Arc, while Jonathan Bell prayed to the Lord and swore that Arlene had intimidated him?
Apocalyptic moments for both DUP leaders, yet such is the thinking of the DUP and their supporters that all was forgive and Peter carried on and Arlene appears determined to carry on. Maybe it comes down to which alternative supporters choose: a leader who has more arrows stuck in them than St Sebastian or a political enemy who is pounding at the gates and demanding entry.
The interesting thing is that, should the knives be planted between the shoulder-blades of coughing Theresa, they may simultaneously be plunged deep into Arlene as well. A few weeks ago she could wave a big brown envelope and say it contained £1 billion. Now the best she can claim is a deal with a PM who can barely deliver a speech, let alone a promise.
Be warned, Arlene: you and Theresa are in this together.