IF there was a time for Liz Truss to rid herself of her reputation as a wooden and uninspiring speaker, to rally her mutinous Conservative troops behind her and – most importantly – to convince the British people that she is a serious politician, worthy of their support, it was her media conference at Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

True to form, she let us down again, in a mere eight minutes. In such serious times the country deserved better than the Prime Minister’s characteristically chilly, grudging appearance before the television cameras.

Given the trauma she has generated within and outwith her party, given the economic uncertainties that darken her future and ours, given her dismissal of her Chancellor just a few hours earlier, the briefing would have been the perfect opportunity for Ms Truss to express contrition, to be candid about her philosophy and her aims, and to show the voters her more human side.

We got none of that. Her performance instead succeeded in adding weight to the perceptive observation by the polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice, who believes that Ms Truss has two problems: “One is that she isn’t really liked; her personality is not one that warms the general public. Secondly, she is regarded as incompetent.”

Moreover, Ms Truss at the briefing gave no plausible reason why she is the best person to take Britain forward when the country faces so many daunting challenges.

What we did get was of líttle surprise. She repeated her dogged mantra about seeking to achieve economic stability, with only the vaguest explanation as to how this might come about.

There was an acknowledgement that some elements of Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget had gone further and faster than the markets were expecting – even though this was in contrast to her previous assertions that market turmoil had been due to global factors and not the ill-starred fiscal statement itself.

She expressed brisk regret that Mr Kwarteng was no longer by her side, gave a brief, neutral word of welcome to his successor, Jeremy Hunt, and, as predicted, announced a U-turn over the rise in corporation tax.

Watching the flinty, brusque Ms Truss at the lectern, batting away media questions and disappearing after ceding the microphone to just four journalists, it was very difficult to suppress the thought: have the Conservatives, long the “natural party of government”, really come to this?

Some of the party’s recent leaders – David Cameron and Boris Johnson come to mind – have been more natural communicators than others – Theresa May and, emphatically, Ms Truss. Had it been Mr Johnson at the lectern, we would have known what to expect: the rumpled appearance, rueful expressions of regret, an apology or three, and pledges to do things better in the future and to learn from mistakes made.

Journalists at yesterday’s briefing were appalled that, on such a pivotal day for Ms Truss’s premiership, she treated their questions with disdain. More pertinently, many of her senior colleagues were left aghast. As one Conservative MP was swift to remark: “Even by her standards, that was really bad”. Another said she was “embarrassingly robotic”. A third, hitherto a supporter of Ms Truss, now takes the view that the party has become a laughing stock

The suspicion remains that Ms Truss is not merely a disastrously bad communicator but is simply not up to the job of Prime Minister.

She may have been diligent in seeking to replace Mr Johnson – think of those sprightly ‘Fizz with Liz’ meetings she held, very early in the process – but, having attained high office, she has made it painfully evident that her ambitions have long outstripped her abilities.

Even if the mini-budget she crafted with Mr Kwarteng was in places well intentioned, it was undone by hubris.

So where do we stand now? Will Ms Truss’s appointment of Jeremy Hunt, who after all was an outspoken supporter of Rishi Sunak during the leadership campaign, buy her time and restore some economic equilibrium?

Will Ms Truss’s colleagues, including the 1922 Committee, take her dismal performance yesterday as the final straw, and try to replace her with Mr Sunak and Penny Mordaunt, perhaps via a truncated leadership election campaign?

Ms Truss herself gives no sign of wanting to go to the country. But the continuing, vocal unrest on her own side – and the fact that the 45p income-tax rate for higher earners was dropped because, despite a Government majority of more than 70, it could not get through the Commons – suggests how little room for manoeuvre she now has.

The wider, inescapable thought is that, in the 12 years since Cameron defeated Gordon Brown, the Conservatives have run out of ideas. It may well be 14 years by the time of the next election.

The party has given us austerity and “partygate”, and has taken us out of Europe while keeping Scotland as part of the Union. It dealt with the Covid-19 outbreak, even if there is widespread concern over the peremptory way in which it shut down Britain. Mr Johnson deserves praise for the swiftness with which he recognised Ukraine’s need for aid after Russia invaded in February.

But, due in good measure to external factors, the economy remains in the doldrums. Productivity levels are dire. The levelling-up programme went nowhere. Much remains to be done before Britain has an assured, post-Brexit future. The Northern Ireland Protocol issue has not gone away.

Energy has become expensive, inflation is forbiddingly high, the NHS and the social care system are in crisis, and growth is low. Widespread industrial action looms on the horizon.

The Government’s reputation for economic competence is in shreds. As the former Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said yesterday, the Conservative Party under Ms Truss had “thrown away years and years of painstaking work to build and maintain a party of fiscal discipline and competence in government”.

And yet the Government looks tired and dispirited. It lacks direction and, having split into so many factions, is feuding with itself. That so many Tory MPs stayed away from the recent conference in Birmingham speaks to a distinct sense of fatigue and a lack of faith in the woman who now occupies No 10.

All governments run out of steam, sooner or later. For all that they achieved in office, it happened to Margaret Thatcher and to Tony Blair.

If Brexit taught us anything, it is difficult to predict what might happen over the next two years. But the erratic nature of Ms Truss’s time in office so far – its U-turns and its lack of direction, her damaging inability to sell her own policies, and the fact that she has made so many potent enemies within her own ranks, who will not cease until she has gone – is of precious little comfort.