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May's reshuffle will be last roll of her dice

Theresa May 'is seriously wounded' Credit: AP

Not a hint from the prime minister on the steps of Downing Street that she has just had the worst night of her political life.

In saying that as the leader of the party with the largest number of seats and votes, it was her duty to at least attempt to form a government, she was stating the constitutionally bloomin' obvious.

But just a nod towards the "sorry" word might have been appropriate.

And some will say she over-reached herself in suggesting she had a moral duty to deliver last year's Brexit vote in whatever way she sees fit.

Because if there was one unmissable characteristic of Thursday's popular vote it is that a clear majority of people backed parties that want the UK's new relationship with the EU to be a much less clinical and severe rupture than she prefers.

And it is also striking and important that a clear majority of voters backed parties that want much more spending on public services than the Tories. What is more the DUP, which she hopes will prop up her minority government, are not hair-shirt, fiscal purists.

If her party does not have a death wish, can she really ignore that clamour for a definitive end to austerity in her Queen's Speech legislative programme that is scheduled for June 19?

As for why she has not resigned, well that's completely obvious. If she quit now, before the Tories have an opportunity to properly take stock of what went wrong and why, it would be catastrophic for them.

Theresa May will lead a minority government Credit: AP

The Tories would tear themselves apart in a three-month leadership contest. And the start of serious Brexit negotiations, also due on June 19, would be completely derailed.

If there were a brilliant candidate ready and waiting to take over, by popular acclaim, that would be another thing.

But the three potential replacements, Boris Johnson, David Davis and Amber Rudd, all have issues.

Johnson is hardly everyone's cup of tea.

Davis does not want to be leader and PM.

And Rudd has a microscopically small majority in her Hastings seat, and it would be very tricky for her to lead her party into the next election when fearful that she could lose her own place in parliament.

So May will cling on. At least until the autumn, by when it will be clear if she and her minority government are actually in power while in office.

She has one further role of the dice today, with a government reshuffle that will be more ambitious than the minimal changes needed to replace lost MPs such as Ben Gummer.

DUP leader Arlene Foster Credit: AP

But even this is dangerous for her.

If she had won a clear majority, Philip Hammond would have been removed as Chancellor - to be replaced, probably, by Rudd.

But can she risk Hammond stirring up opposition to her from the backbenches, especially given his preference for a softer Brexit?

My hunch is that Davis and Rudd will both in some ways be given grander, more prominent roles - given that they are relatively popular both within the party and in the wider country. And in the case of Davis at least, his Brexit credentials are not in doubt among Tory MPs - which matters for the unity of her party.

Perhaps one of them will fill the vacant post of deputy prime minister.

The truth is, May is seriously wounded. And she will need a loyal deputy to help her through the possible mayhem - to coin the appropriate word - of the coming weeks and months.

PS Scrap that. There will be no serious reshuffle at all. May is too damaged to risk alienating any big beast. So all the holders of the top offices of state - chancellor, Brexit, foreign secretary, home secretary and so on - will be reconfirmed in their posts, either today or tomorrow.