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Theresa May looking vulnerable after disastrous performance

Only the stoniest of hearts could fail to feel some sympathy for Theresa May as she struggled through one of the most toe-curling, disaster-prone and embarrassing speeches by a prime minister.

The leader's speech is the high point of a party conference. A chance to energise the faithful, send out a message of strength and authority and above all to look and sound like someone in control and in charge.

Mrs May was already on the back foot when she arrived in Manchester this week.

Having presided over a calamitous election campaign that left her with a reduced majority in need of life support from the DUP and with Boris Johnson challenging her at every turn, she needed a good performance to rally her downcast supporters and paper over the cracks in her cabinet.

Virtually everything that happens at party conferences is tightly scripted and closely choreographed. Unwelcome surprises are definitely not on the agenda.

It is perhaps a metaphor for the Tory party and Mrs May's premiership that just about anything that could go wrong did go wrong during her set-piece address.

Anyone can be struck down with a cough but it is highly unusual for a such a senior politician to be left spluttering her way through a major speech, needing to be sustained by sips of water and donations of sweets from the watching audience.

As if that was not bad enough, she was interrupted by a prank comedian who presented her with a fake P45.

She actually handled that bizarre episode reasonably well but it raises concerns about the level of security around the prime minister.

After all that, the letters dropping off the sign behind Mrs May were a minor distraction on a nightmare day.

Earlier this week Nigel Dodds insisted the confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives was not a temporary deal but would last the duration of this parliament.

Just how long Mrs May's leadership will last is clearly open to question following yesterday's wretched performance but the DUP's role in keeping this shambolic government in office is looking even more dubious.

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