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Theresa May shows her human side 'at last'

Theresa May at a meeting of the Cabinet on Monday. Credit: PA

It was not what Theresa May said when seeing backbench MPs tonight that prolonged her tenure as Tory leader and Prime Minister, but it was her demeanour - or how she came across.

"She showed her human side at last," said one MP present at her life-or-death meeting with the 1922 committee of backbench Conservatives.

"She took loads of questions and gave proper answers," said another.

And a third made the more cutting point that "if only she had done that in the election, we surely would have done a lot better".

Most MPs said she had shown enough contrition and understanding of what she had done wrong to avoid an immediate challenge to her leadership.

To be clear, that is not the view of all. One senior backbencher said: "Yes she did alright, but she is toast. Over the summer we'll build a consensus for Boris to take over."

Hmmm.

Mrs May said: 'I got us into this mess and I am going to get us out.' Credit: PA

The public utterances of Boris Johnson himself are that the party should unite behind Mrs May.

But this was what one minister said about his demeanour during the meeting: "When the room cheered her to the rafters, his face was a picture; he did not look happy."

So what did she say specifically that warmed the cockles of her MPs? What generated their minor public-school ritual of banging their desks in appreciation of her?

Her most striking phrase was: "I got us into this mess and I am going to get us out."

And she also said she would remain Tory leader only for as long as they wanted - which is quite a change from her public position that she would serve a full five-year term.

The Prime Minister said she would learn from the election. Credit: PA

As for the lessons of the election, a number of MPs pointed out that Labour's relative success was partly based on its promises to invest considerably more than the Tories would in public services.

Importantly, she agreed.

She also conceded that she had been deaf to how much the public wanted an easing off of austerity, how much they wanted more investment in schools, hospitals, childcare and so on.

How long will she be given to stabilise her party, before there is a leadership contest?

I stick to what I said earlier today: she's got a year, just possibly 18 months, unless that is she fails to consolidate the goodwill she generated with her people this afternoon.