How perky the voters looked as they entered the Committee Corridor. The less important you are as an MP, the more enjoyable you are likely to find a Conservative leadership campaign.

You have endured years or decades of pitiful insignificance, but now your vote counts. All the contenders and their teams want to recruit you.

Everything is possible. Delicious fantasies shimmer before you. The victor will recognise your abilities, inexplicably overlooked by Theresa May and David Cameron, with the offer of a ministerial post.

Meanwhile the journalists loitering in the corridor want to talk to you, and the less you know, the more you want to talk to them.

A roaring trade goes on in expectation management and meaningless gossip. It is all very jolly, this suspension of the usual routine, this awareness that the cards are even now being reshuffled and you might end up on the winning side.

The Prime Minister did not enjoy today’s election. She  wore a yellow top, a long black coat and a frozen smile. Looking to neither left nor right, she marched swiftly up the corridor followed by a handful of aides.

“How did you vote?” a reporter had the temerity to ask as she emerged from the committee room where the voting was taking place.

“That’s none of your business,” she replied, uncommunicative as ever. Her demeanour was that of one suffering from a nightmare from which she cannot wake up.

It has presumably occurred to her that one day her portrait will hang somewhere in the Palace of Westminster. The Committee Corridor in hung with 24 of her predecessors, with a few empty spaces where a picture may temporarily have been removed for some reason.

Starting at the Commons end of the building, these reminders of prime ministerial mortality are, in reverse chronological order, Churchill, Chamberlain, Ramsay MacDonald, Baldwin, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, Asquith, Balfour, Rosebery, Gladstone, Aberdeen, Russell, Peel, Grey, Wellington, Canning, Grenville, Pitt the Younger, Shelburne, North, Newcastle, Pelham. Spencer Compton and Walpole.

“I’m incredibly depressed by the whole situation,” a Tory peer said as I reached Walpole at the far end of the corridor. But even the noble lord was quite enjoying being gloomy.

Back outside the voting, Rory Stewart strode up and down, self-collected but tense, the Orde Wingate of our times, a leader ready to follow a more daring and original strategy than anyone else.

His campaign to save the Tory party hung in the balance. A handful of converts in the last hour and he would go through as the only exciting challenger to his fellow Eton and Balliol man.

As the Chancellor of the Exchequer emerged from the committee room, a reporter inquired: “Mr Hammond, who did you vote for?”

“I’m not telling you,” he replied in a singularly graceless tone, and strode off.

With solemn majesty, two imposing, tail-coated attendants emerged at noon from the committee room and carried the black ballot boxes next door, where the counting was to take place.

At one o’clock, Cheryl Gillan read out the results. Johnson had gained more votes than the next three candidates combined, and Stewart had won the handful of converts he needed to stay in the race. No one else had much cause for satisfaction.