They say it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, but in the end Boris Johnson’s problem was that he was humming a different tune to the rest of his cabinet.
Like a toddler with his fingers stuck in his ears, screaming “La, la, la”, the prime minister appeared tone-deaf to the mounting disquiet among colleagues over his failure to hit the right note in response to a string of scandals.
After the savageries of Party-gate, only a pitch-perfect response to the resignation of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher would do.
Everyone else could see the show was over but – ever the showman – he hoped for some sort of cake-and-eat it encore.
After a day of drama that saw Dominic Raab stumbling over his lines and Michael Ellis performing to empty front bench seats in the Commons, Downing Street: The Musical could not have reached a more Olivier award-winning climax with Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak suddenly exiting stage left.
Having torn up No 10’s pre-rehearsed lines and replaced them with their own, rewritten final act, the health secretary and the chancellor could not have been more damning.
There was no need to read between the lines – what these once close allies were saying was that it was time for the understudy to take over the production.
Coming just minutes after Mr Johnson had finally admitted it had been a mistake to appoint alleged sex pest Mr Pincher after apparently referring to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”, it only added to the sense of
tragi-comedy playing out.
We all knew, deep down, the grand finale was drawing closer, but not in quite such spectacular fashion.
Even Mr Javid and Mr Sunak must have been taken by surprise, if reports that they did not confer before submitting their early evening resignation letters within 20 minutes of each other are to be believed.
As more and more Tory backbenchers urged Mr Johnson to do the honourable thing and go, the public could have been forgiven for wondering if they were stuck in some sort of never-ending interval.
For weeks now, it has seemed as if the man who won the Tories’ biggest mandate in 40 years in 2019 has been on the brink of falling off stage.
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, was the first cast member to give him a shove towards the edge, channelling his inner Brando as he declared “in the name of God, go” back in January.
It came as the so-called “pork pie plotters” contrived to send letters of no confidence to Graham Brady in the first sign that the Red Wall was crumbling.
It took less than six months for the threshold of 54 letters to be reached and even when Mr Johnson won the vote
by 211 to 148, it seemed obvious that failing to secure
the support of 41pc of his MPs was eventually going to prove fatal.
Not least after the Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton by-elections confirmed suspicions of his degradation from vote winner to vote loser.
Oliver Dowden’s resignation not only served to reinforce the growing sense among Tories that Mr Johnson no longer had the doorstep X Factor. It also hinted at a rebellion advancing dangerously from the back benchers towards the dispatch box.
The prevarication over Party- gate may have taken the cake, but it was nothing compared with the last 48 hours, with No 10 having to repeatedly rewrite the script over what the prime minister knew about Mr Pincher’s apparent reputation for abject dodginess.
Defending eating a slice of Victoria sponge during lockdown is one thing, but lies over an accused sex pest? That’s not collective responsibility, but career suicide.
For Mr Johnson, the mere idea of being ditched as the Tories’ leading man will undoubtedly feel like torture. Having declared as a child his intention to become “world king”, he had hoped to emulate the longevity of his heroes, Churchill and Thatcher.
Indeed, it was less than a month ago that he expressed a desire to remain in power until the 2030s.
His performance, however, has been found wanting at almost every star turn. As the curtain threatens to fall, a bewildered nation is left with only one conclusion to draw. That it was all an act.
Telegraph Media Group Limited