Tory leadership: 'Nothing has changed', or has it?

Theresa May walks onto the conference stage Image copyright Jeff Overs/BBC

"Nothing has changed." Remember that?

There is, this morning, an operation being mounted by the government to try to show that nothing has changed in the Conservative Party in the last few days, that Theresa May's leadership remains on track and she is, to use another of her famous phrases, just, "getting on with the job".

Except, as happened the last time she proclaimed "nothing has changed", something rather fundamental has, after all.

For the doubts that have been building about her in the party for months are now out there in the wide open.

Yes, they have only been articulated by two former ministers, Grant Shapps and Ed Vaizey. Yes they were both close to David Cameron. Yes they were both Remainers too, which allows a conspiracy theory to take hold that the efforts to get rid of Theresa May are really a guise for stopping Brexit.

(Having talked to those involved for some time, the doubts are about competence and authority, not Brexit and there is at least one senior Brexiteer among their number).

And yes, most importantly of all, just as it was on the morning after the election, there is still no obvious successor to Theresa May, who commands broad support right across the Tory Party.

If there had been, it's likely that she would have gone then. That is really why those around Theresa May believe they have got the plot under control.

But the public, and now the prime minister's opponents across the table in the Brexit talks are aware that some of her colleagues simply don't think that she is up to the job.

Remarks by Mr Vaizey and Mr Shapps can't be unsaid. The private questions are now out there in the ether and can't be taken back.

Even if the plot has been killed off at birth, it's another crack in her authority, already so fractured after the election.

It doesn't mean she'll have to go now, or indeed anytime soon. Other leaders have survived countless attempts to shove them out.

But even many of Theresa May's supporters know that something is deeply wrong, however many times they tell themselves, "nothing has changed".