Theresa May needs to make the speech of her life

Theresa May is set to address the Conservative Party conference. Credit: PA

For a party that has just won an election - honestly, they did - the Tories are in one hell of a mess.

Talking last night to ministers and their senior advisers, who were liberated by booze and relief that their conference nightmare is almost over, all I heard was division on everything that matters - except that they have to stick for now by a leader they neither like much, hold in respect or believe can lead them to the sunny uplands of victory at the next election.

On the biggest issue of the day, Brexit, they are still profoundly split on whether it will be empowering and enriching freedom or a ghastly, painful fulfilment of duty to a misguided nation.

And as for how to respond to Corbyn’s popularity, their confusion is extraordinary: whether to relentlessly attack him for being too left wing and recklessly spendthrift, but risk seeming insensitive to the clamour of millions for an end to austerity and flatlining living standards; or whether to offer, as in fact they have been, their own cheaper solutions to problems he identified, and reinforce Labour’s claim to better understand the hopes and fears of the nation.

Jeremy Corbyn's surge in popularity presents an ongoing challenge for the Tories. Credit: PA

As I say the only thing that unites all of them - except Boris Johnson - is the idea that it would be political suicide to replace their leader until Brexit is delivered.

But that unity can only be sustained if the status quo is not in fact the slow train to electoral oblivion - which most of the latest opinion polls suggest it might just be (what should terrify them most perhaps is collapsing public confidence in how they are managing the one thing they own utterly and completely - the process of leaving the EU).

Which is why Theresa May’s speech later this morning will be the most important she has ever given. For someone who is not a natural leader, she needs to restore her party’s faith in itself. I cannot even begin to imagine the pressure she must be feeling.