BORIS Johnson's speech to the CBI conference had a whiff of the endgame about it.

The Prime Minister was forced to apologise three times to his audience of business leaders after losing his place and resorted to making car noises and waffling about the virtues of the children's cartoon character Pippa Pig. To say it was embarrassing for all present and those watching on television is an understatement.

His shambolic public outing sent out a message of troubled incompetence.

Dangerously for Johnson, viewers - including Conservative MPs and voters - will have seen his speech and concluded that a PM who struggles to be coherent is surely not the best person to be dealing with the pandemic and a struggling health service, never mind finding solutions to supermarkets' supply chain problems and firms struggling to recruit staff.

READ MORE: Ruth Davidson attacks Boris Johnson over 'disrespectful' CBI speech

His performance echoed Theresa May's to the Tory party conference in October 2017, when all went wrong for Johnson's predecessor and marked the beginning of the end of her premiership.

Addressing the party faithful, the then PM was handed her P45 by a prankster, came down with a hacking cough while the words on the set collapsed behind her. May's premiership limped on - with no help from Johnson - for a further 19 months. 

Can Johnson go on for a similar period?

Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was among the first to launch a public attack after the CBI speech.

The National:

Now a member the House of Lords, she lost no time in delivering a scathing verdict after it was branded “painful to watch” by David Cameron’s former communications director, Craig Oliver.

She tweeted: “Craig Oliver's analysis on BBC Newsnight is right. The fundamental thing about today's speech is that it was disrespectful. British business deserves more than chaotic and unprepared boosterism. It needs to know government understands the current huge challenges and will help.”

But Davidson is far from being the first senior Conservative politician to give her party leader less than full backing in recent weeks. Only last week the green benches behind Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions were notably quieter than usual as many Tory MPs stayed away.

Conservative anger erupted last month over the Owen Paterson scandal and the PM's role in instructing his MPs to back an overhaul of standards' procedures to save Paterson, who had breached lobbying rules, from being suspended from the Commons, only to U turn on the policy the next day.

Humiliation then followed when Johnson was forced to tell international journalists the UK "wasn't a corrupt state" during a short press conference at COP26 in Glasgow and as the sleaze row escalated.

An announcement not to extend the high speed HS2 rail link from Birmingham to Leeds as well as plans by Johnson's government to reform social care in England which will put homeowners in the north of the country at a disadvantage to those in the south east have furthered angered Tory MPs in so-called "Red Wall" seats who were so vital to Johnson's general election victory in 2019.

The outlook for Johnson remaining in post for many more months are indeed poor.

It currently seems uncertain just how long he will stay on but what is clear is that after the events of recent weeks he is a very much weakened figure.

"Do you have confidence in Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader?" Scottish Tory chief Douglas Ross was asked on Sunday.

The interviewer had to pose the question three times before Ross finally answered "yes".