The first responsibility of government is protection of the people. Judged by that standard the harsh truth is that Mrs May has already failed as Prime Minister. That is a harsh judgement because what happened in Manchester is something we have been told over many years to steel ourselves for. It is her bad luck that it has happened on her watch. However my sympathy for her is significantly tempered by a number of factors.
First the timing of this attack is no coincidence or matter of chance. We are days away from an election and this savage blow aimed at children having fun underlines the impotence of democracy to safeguard us against undiscriminating death and distress. Only the most ardent Conservative could argue that this is a necessary election. It's an election that Mrs May said she would not seek, it has lost us vital time in engaging with the Brexit negotiations, and the whole endeavour smacks of cynical opportunism.
How hollow rings the already hackneyed cliche that Mrs May means strong and stable government. Not strong enough to save the lives of young girls not stable enough to avoid emptying the barracks. The government will of course be privy to intelligence that indicates that deploying troops is an absolute necessity but Mrs May must be either blind or panic-stricken if she can't see how symbolically dismal this appears.
Soldiers at the Palace of Westminster would not have stopped the attack in Manchester and should, heaven forbid, another attack follow hot on its heels we can be certain it will not be where the rifles are. Should that happen the futility of taking the military option will be writ large.
With all that in mind it is extraordinary that some have deplorably suggested that this attack is conveniently timed for Mrs May. Quite the contrary: an effect of this grievous blow, no doubt intended, is that the much anticipated landslide for the Conservatives will likely now not happen. Already the polls have shown a remarkable narrowing of the gap between them and Labour. Why should people fear chaos with Corbyn when they are already experiencing misery with May?
The leaking of the Labour manifesto prompted a frenzy of sneering and derision from the Tory press and commentators all of whom had forgotten that there is no such thing as bad publicity. At least it contained ideas and real policy proposals. They may be financially implausible but they were offering something to vote for. People want to vote for hope not against fear and Mrs May has shown she has nothing to offer for the former and nothing to protect against the latter.