DOMINIC SANDBROOK: Friendless. Tortured. Mrs May's political tragedy was like ...

The story of almost every modern premiership can be told as a two- act tragedy.

Act One. A car sweeps into Downing Street and out climbs the hero of the hour. Wreathed in smiles, a picture of confidence and vigour, the new master (or mistress) of British politics walks to the microphone, delivers a few inspirational soundbites and steps inside the famous black door.

Act Two. The door opens, and our hero re-emerges. But now the face is pale and haggard, the eyes puffy, the voice weary and disappointed. The long struggle for survival is over. The torture chamber has claimed its latest victim.

As Theresa May wept on the steps of No 10 yesterday, her voice cracking in yet another moment of excruciating melodrama, it would have come as little consolation that no Prime Minister for more than 40 years has escaped such a fate.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for a family photo during the European Union leaders informal summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for a family photo during the European Union leaders informal summit in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018

Mrs May was overcome by tears as she spoke of her pride at having been PM, even though she admitted to having failed to deliver Brexit

Jim Callaghan was destroyed by the Winter of Discontent. Margaret Thatcher was assassinated by her own ministers. John Major was crushed beneath an electoral landslide.

Tony Blair was forced out by his backbenchers. Gordon Brown was knifed by his colleagues and rejected by the electorate. And David Cameron saw his political life ended overnight when the British people voted to leave the EU.

For sheer gruelling agony, though, Mrs May’s ordeal was in a league of its own. And though she was not the first Prime Minister to shed a tear on leaving office, the fact that none has ever broken down so completely tells its own story.

Perhaps her most fatal mistake was calling a snap election that lost her MPs rather than gained them (pictured having chips and a coffee on the campaign trail on May 2, 2017)

Perhaps her most fatal mistake was calling a snap election that lost her MPs rather than gained them (pictured having chips and a coffee on the campaign trail on May 2, 2017)

She became Prime Minister on July 13, 2016. At the time, few people doubted that she was the right woman for the job.

In the wake of Mr Cameron’s resignation, Michael Gove’s betrayal of Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom’s gaffe-induced withdrawal, the former Home Secretary looked like the only grown-up left.

While her rivals bickered and plotted, Mrs May’s palpable seriousness, her sense of duty, set her apart. Here, it seemed, was a new Iron Lady, who would restore order where all was chaos.

But the essence of any good tragedy is that the protagonist is doomed by a fatal flaw: an error or defect that makes failure inevitable, no matter how much the hero struggles against it.

Mrs May broke into dance whilst meeting with Scouts at the United Nations offices in Nairobi, Kenya, in August last year

She then danced on to stage at the Conservative Party annual conference in October last year

Mrs May broke into dance whilst meeting with Scouts at the United Nations offices in Nairobi, Kenya, last August and then danced on to stage at the Conservative Party annual conference in October last year

And like so many Prime Ministers, Mrs May was doomed by precisely the qualities that had elevated her to the top job in the first place.

Her earnestness became woodenness, her steadfastness became stubbornness, and even her sense of duty became a prison, trapping her inside No 10 long after it was clear that her party had turned against her.

Perhaps, in some alternative universe, her tenure might have turned out differently. Her credentials were impeccable.

As a rising Tory star in the 2000s, the first woman to serve as party chairman had argued for modernisation, warning activists that they were seen as the ‘nasty party’.

The self-confessed 'bl**dy difficult woman' grabbed power after David Cameron's resignation in 2016 and the 62-year-old enjoyed rocketing approval ratings as she triggered Article 50 in March 2017. She is pictured with Prince William and Theresa May in the Royal Box Wimbledon

The self-confessed 'bl**dy difficult woman' grabbed power after David Cameron's resignation in 2016 and the 62-year-old enjoyed rocketing approval ratings as she triggered Article 50 in March 2017. She is pictured with Prince William and Theresa May in the Royal Box Wimbledon

And as the longest-serving Home Secretary for more than 60 years, she had weathered storms that would have sunk most of her rivals, deporting the radical cleric Abu Qatada, fighting to get immigration down and challenging the police to clean up corruption.

In her first speech as Prime Minister, delivered on that sunny July day three years ago, Mrs May promised a crusade against the ‘burning injustices’ in British society.

She promised to work for ‘working-class families’, as well as those who were ‘just managing’. She promised to give people more control over their lives, to make it easier to buy homes and to tear down the barriers of class and race.

None of it materialised. All her reforming ambitions were consumed by the black hole of Brexit.

The public gave her the nickname the 'Maybot' and her awkward mannerisms, with her laughing in the Commons becoming one of a number of popular gifs 

Yet, at first, after six years of an insouciant Old Etonian in No 10, Mrs May’s sober new approach felt distinctly refreshing.

Indeed, it seemed that Britain had found its own Angela Merkel: another dogged, dutiful clergyman’s daughter, with an instinctive understanding of the ambitions and anxieties of Middle Britain.

Later, as Mrs May’s premiership collapsed in chaos, people forgot that she had once been extraordinarily popular.

As late as April 2017, an opinion poll found that she led Jeremy Corbyn by a staggering 54 to 15 per cent, while the Tories were 21 per cent clear of Labour.

But that marked the beginning of the end.

One sunny April morning, Mrs May unexpectedly called a snap General Election, gambling that she could use her popularity to secure a bigger majority in the House of Commons.

Theresa May struggles with a cough as she delivers her keynote speech to delegates and party members on the last day of the Conservative Party Conference at Manchester Central on October 4, 2017

The Tory needed to nail her conference speech in 2017 after the snap election disaster, but suffered a coughing fit and then the set with her new slogan fell apart

The Tory needed to nail her conference speech in 2017 after the snap election disaster, but suffered a coughing fit (left) and then the set with her new slogan fell apart (right)

The result was a disaster.

Day by day, as her nerves and awkwardness as a campaigner were exposed before the cameras, her lead ebbed away. And when the votes were counted on the night of June 8, she had lost her majority — and with it, her political capital.

When future historians ask what went wrong, Mrs May’s personal weaknesses will surely loom large.

Like Gordon Brown — another dour, inflexible clergyman’s child — she seemed to shrink from the limelight. When the cameras rolled, she visibly tensed, as if mortally afraid of saying the wrong thing.

It is supremely telling that when an interviewer teasingly asked about the naughtiest thing she had ever done, the only thing that occurred to her was that, as a child, she used to run through fields of wheat.

This from a woman who had been at Oxford in the mid-Seventies, the heyday of sit-ins, soft drugs and student hedonism.

One day, perhaps, Mrs May’s biographers may conclude that her pathological defensiveness was rooted in her experience as a woman in politics.

Depressingly, women in public life still face appalling abuse, from casual sexism to horrifying rape threats.

Mrs May rightly took pride in being the second woman Prime Minister. Yet, unlike Margaret Thatcher — who loved being the only woman in the room - Mrs May never turned her femininity into an asset

Mrs May rightly took pride in being the second woman Prime Minister. Yet, unlike Margaret Thatcher — who loved being the only woman in the room - Mrs May never turned her femininity into an asset

Her voice cracking, Mrs May said it had been the 'honour of my life' to be PM, and she hoped she would not be the last woman to lead the country

Her voice cracking, Mrs May said it had been the 'honour of my life' to be PM, and she hoped she

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