“There’s nobody with the flair of Johnson,” a veteran Tory backbencher said in a mournful tone as he walked away after casting his vote in the leadership election.
The atmosphere in the Committee Corridor was desultory. It occurred to me that any Tory who did not wish to indicate a preference in this race could self-declare as a Desultory.
A broadcaster asked what I had just written in my notebook. On being told, he said he did not regard it as being of broadcast quality.
The atmosphere warmed up when we got to the result. Sir Graham Brady and his colleagues from the Executive of the 1922 Committee entered the crowded room, smiling as broadly as the proud parents at a graduation ceremony.
They were greeted with a loud and long banging of desks: the Tory tribe’s traditional greeting to its chiefs, when it not decapitating them.
These contests have since 1965 been conducted by methods formally democratic, but we can report that behind a thin veneer of modernity, the old savagery continues unabated.
What a bloody business it is. First we had the decapitation of the serving Prime Minister, cut down without being allowed to see if he could save his skin at a general election.
And now at the end of each round in the succession battle, the axe falls on whoever has done worst. It falls to Sir Graham to announce who this time has got the chop from the chaps.
Penny Mordaunt was a magnificent young woman in the prime of life who had already published a book, and for a few heady days it looked as if the Tory tribe intended to make her the next Prime Minister.
But the book got torn to pieces and today Sir Graham revealed she was a goner. She was 49 years old, and could have looked forward to many happy years in Downing Street.
The Tories now have to choose between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. They will take their time to decide which of them to decapitate.
Back in the Committee Corridor, we struggled to hear what a supporter of Sunak, or possibly Truss, had to say.
“We have to do it in a positive way,” this spokesman declared, for a whole series of ghastly euphemisms are employed in order to gloss over the savage treatment which will be meted out to the loser of this contest.