The final day of the Tory Conference was a tale of three ladies. Amber Rudd is highly intelligent. Only around a third of Theresa May’s cabinet have a full ration of senior-political presence (some others may earn it over time; some others will not). Until today, Amber Rudd was one of the secure minority, and she will probably recover from the row over foreign workers. But recovery is necessary. Most politicians commit mis-speaks at some stage; remember Theresa May and the “nasty party” – yesteryear’s mistake, today’s clever joke. But on Wednesday, it was Amber Rudd’s turn to stumble.

Immigration is a difficult issue. Large sections of British industry have come to depend on workers from the EU. Even if they are not British citizens, they have earned the right not to be treated as second-class citizens. Their efforts have won them respect. Post-Brexit, there will be problems. It is necessary to control immigration, which means ensuring that young Brits are prepared for work, and if reluctant, coerced into it. Life on the dole must not be an option. But on the foreign question, there are two essentials: hard thinking and carefully-crafted language. The Home Secretary failed both tests. She will do better next time, and she was also lucky. Two other females stole the headlines.

A youngster asked me how long I had been coming to Tory conferences, and how they had changed. The answer to the first half was painful: almost forty years. As for the second, I cited the virtual disappearance of the pin-striped suit. In my early days, the main Conference hotel would have been full of rich-looking men: Savile Row with a hint of Cologne. There were many fewer youngsters, who tended to be seen and not heard, and there were hardly any non-white faces. Today, it is all very different, as was dramatised by Ruth Davidson. She was still unborn when I first went to a conference. If you had told be then that the day would come when a 37 year-old lesbian kick-boxer would a) be the leader of the Scottish Conservative party, and b) delight the Tory conference with an outstanding speech…what is a strong word for incredulity? Forty years on, I wonder what odds the bookies might offer against her being Prime Minister one day. She is special.

I also wondered whether Theresa May had taken a risk too far in inviting Miss Davidson to do the warm-up speech. Not so. The new Leader seemed to find her own tone of voice effortlessly (many, many hours of drafting would have been necessary to achieve that poise and effortlessness – but I bet it was not as bad as in Maggie’s day).

Britain is on a journey. As all but a handful of Remainers now recognise, we have taken an almost irrevocable step. The fact that the referendum margin was only four percentage points is irrelevant. You cannot be out of the EU one year and then back in it the next year. The Brexit vote means stare decisis. That could only change if there were an economic, political and social crisis. No Remainer should wish that on the country. So those of us who opposed Brexit must hope that we were wrong.

Theresa May was right to warn against a running commentary. The negotiation process will require secrecy. It is likely that Liam Fox and Boris Johnson will have to be reminded of that; secrecy will come more easily to David Davis. But the PM gives the impression that she knows what will be required: that she has the political strength to take on this enormous challenge.

The same applies to a second journey, which started at the party Conference of 1990, when Margaret Thatcher in her final speech as Tory leader called for a classless Britain. For decades, Tories have been exasperated by the ease with which the Labour party was able to claim moral superiority, despite the chronic incompetence of Labour governments. Since 1990, every Tory Leader has tried to counter this: David Cameron wins the prizes for eloquence and consistency. Theresa may is now joining the fight; in that respect at least, she is a Cameronian.

Some of the details are questionable. Workers on the board? That is the language of the 1970s. In any well-run company, the board consists of workers and the road to promotion is open to junior ranks. But the analysis can wait. Today, Mrs May addressed herself to everyone in Britain who wants to work hard: every family in Britain which wants to make the effort to prosper. This party is on your side, she told them, and so is this government. It was a powerful and moving message.

It also remedies a philosophical weakness. Thatcherism never had a theory of the state. When elections were approaching, the Lady was happy to stand by the status quo. At other times, her body language gave the impression that she regarded the state as an unprivatisable residuum with employees who were too idle and mediocre to get a real job in the private sector. David Cameron went some way towards rectifying this, but despite – or because of – his philosophical training, he was reluctant to engage in philosophical debate about the nature of the state. Today Theresa May did outline a commonsense and traditionally Tory theory of an enabling state, to deal with the problems which only it could tackle.

It was a powerful beginning which has prolonged her political honeymoon, by at least another week. Then the difficulties will begin, but one point is clear. She will not fail for want of steel.