IT was in June 2017, after her bodged general election, that Theresa May’s former Cabinet colleague George Osborne labelled her “a dead woman walking”.

Then things got worse for her, with last year’s conference speech from hell, when she became a dead woman coughing her way through an hour of agony that seemed to nail her coffin lid shut.

Since then, she’s stumbled zombie-like from crisis to crisis, suffering numerous resignations of senior ministers and total humiliation from EU leaders. Yesterday, the day of her big speech, dawned with one right-wing newspaper claiming that her few remaining loyal Cabinet-members were calling for her to name the date of her funeral as her great rival, Boris Johnson, had delivered the last rites with a rapturously received speech.

But yesterday lunchtime, Mrs May was not only still walking, she was a dead woman dancing – albeit in a wooden, robotic fashion – as she took to the stage at Birmingham.

It was a good speech, in that nothing went wrong. It was a very good speech, in that there were no self-inflicted wounds. In fact, it was an excellent speech, in that it did what it needed to do: it was positive about the future post-Brexit; it was human, especially in the passages about her god-daughter dying of cancer and her great-uncle being a victim of the Great War; it powerfully appealed for party unity with Labour identified as the true enemy, and it heralded the imminent ending of austerity after eight years of bone-slicing cuts.

At the end, she almost boogied off stage to the upbeat strains of Mr Blue Sky – “sun is shinin’ in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight… welcome to the human race…please tell us why you had to hide away for so long…”.

However, during her speech, which lasted more than an hour, she mentioned neither the B-word nor the C-word.

Avoiding the B-word meant that there was an enormous elephant in the conference hall with a floppy blonde fringe. Boris had bounced in on Tuesday, and heated up an otherwise tepid conference with a display of verve, passion, comedy, ego and anti-Europeanism – qualities Mrs May does not possess in any abundance.

Everyone could see the elephant; everyone had been enthused by the elephant; everyone wondered how she could dance her way around the elephant without mentioning its existence.

At one point she came deliberately close to touching it. In a cleverly worded passage, she took Mr Johnson’s exasperation at big companies’ opposition to Brexit – “f*** business”, he had exploded – and turned it to remind her party that they should “back business” as the job and wealth creators that fund decent public services.

But by and large she avoided the elephant by conjuring up an altogether more dangerous beast which was at large: Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing Labour.

Mr Corbyn had a good week at Labour’s conference, cementing his position at the head of a party with bold ideas – nationalisation, employee share ownership, ending academies and free schools – that are attractive, but profoundly worrying to traditional Conservative voters.

Mrs May was saying that should she fall, she is just as likely to be replaced by the devil that is Mr Corbyn as she is by the Brexit apostle Mr Johnson – the Jacob Rees Moggs of this world have to be careful who they wish for.

Mrs May also avoided the C-word. Chequers is the name of the plan on which she is basing her premiership and Britain’s exit from the EU. Chequers is the life raft keeping Mrs May’s head above water, but everyone, from Emmanuel Macron to Mr Johnson, says Chequers is dead and needs to be chucked.

But Mrs May hopes that by not referring to the C-word, instead rebranding it as a cuddly “free trade deal”, no one will notice that she is ploughing on with it.

And that really is a metaphor for Mrs May’s premiership. She is using her weakness as a strength to help her just get on with it, no matter what.

The public sympathises with her weaknesses – last year after her excruciating speech, I received many emails critical of me for mocking someone afflicted by a tickly cough – and marvels at her resilience. After last year’s cringing, it took guts to appear singing Dancing Queen.

She will need all that resilience, and more, in the six months ahead. Problems with the B-word and the C-word cannot be avoided. The B-word’s campaign will become more pronounced because he has to become leader before Brexit as he will look old hat afterwards, and the C-word will somehow have to be sculpted to suit both the EU and the hard Brexiteers. It will take some delicate dancing.

Yesterday, Mrs May showed that reports of her death have been greatly exaggerated. She has just slipped past Pitt the Elder to become Britain’s 39th longest serving prime minister – 15 PMs served shorter terms than she has, something that seemed impossible when her obituary was written after the bodged election.

Perhaps only a dead woman will be able to survive a walk through the minefield of Brexit.