The committee corridor was not as packed as the night Margaret Thatcher lost, but was still pretty thronged for Theresa May’s speech to the ’22.
She arrived at eight minutes past five and went silently into the room, followed by Gavin Barwell, Stephen Parkinson and other Number Ten aides.
A great banging on desks could be heard by the hundred or so journalists waiting in the corridor, and for some time that was all we had to go on. Was it possible to detect, in this solid applause, a note of guilt?
Committee Room 14, which is much larger than it sounds, was nevertheless not large enough to accommodate every Tory who had turned out. A large contingent of Conservative peers arrived early, making it difficult for those MPs who cut it a bit fine.
Rory Stewart could be found strolling with a smile from door to door – there are several entrances to this lofty chamber – without getting in.
Here was a man who had walked from one side of Afghanistan to the other, who could not get into a committee room at Westminster. He talked instead to the tribesmen of the press, winning their trust by using their own language, building a relationship with people whom many travellers regard with fear and loathing.
And then Stewart was no longer with us. He had slipped through one of the heavy wooden doors. David Lloyd George, painted by Philip de Laszlo, gazed down from one of the walls. He was overthrown by Tory MPs in 1922.
In the end, Tory MPs overthrow almost everyone who leads them. Only Stanley Baldwin and Lord Salisbury managed to leave at a time of their own choosing.
At 17.24 there came a burst of such thunderous banging that it sounded like a subway train passing overhead on the New York elevated railway. The PM must have finished speaking.
And then one or two MPs started to emerge. They had not stayed for the questions, but brought news to the waiting press that she will not stay in post for the next phase of the negotiations.
“She’ll go earlier than she intended as long as she gets her deal through,” one of them said. “I’ve never heard the 1922 so silent,” another reported. “She warned us that if the deal doesn’t go through, we’ll have Corbyn in power,” a third said.
“Glorious,” a friend of mine on the Tory benches summed up. “Every word a gem. Every egg a bird.”
If he thought to mock my ignorance, he was too late. Everyone in the corridor knew the PM had said she will go sooner than she wanted, though we also knew she had not set a date.
And no one, whether crammed into Committee Room 14 or loitering in the long, hot corridor outside, could tell whether her condition for going – that the deal goes through – is actually going to be achieved.