Sir J.Alfred Prufrock – MP for Grummidge West, real ale enthusiast, Wolves fan, cycle lane maniac and swing voter on the Executive of the 1922 Committee – sits at his desk in Portcullis House and ponders what to do for the best.

Conservative MPs may lurch from complacency to panic, be “the most sophisticated electorate in the world” (i.e: the most unreliable one), and have a lingering sense of entitlement to rule.

But they nonetheless possess an ineradicable streak of common sense.  Call it cowardice if you like or prudence if you prefer but, either way, there has been sense in them waiting for Sue Gray’s report.

Bemused, frustruted and ineffectual Prufrock may be, but he isn’t stupid.  Well, he is.  But you know what I mean.  He wants to see what Gray has to say.  Ping! goes his mobile.  Ring Chris Heaton-Harris.

Prufrock tries to think his way through the issues like a child trying to join up the dots.  First things first.  Boris Johnson has a majority of 80 and a mandate to govern.

His Government has not presided over a Suez or an ERM.  Prufrock straightens himself in his chair.  Then comes the counter-thought.  But he has breached the rules if not the law that he made for others.

Ah, though: hang on a moment.  True, each party story gets worse, but Martin Reynolds may not have told him there was one in the garden, and Carrie Johnson surprised him with that cake.

There’s no evidence that the Prime Minister actually organised any parties.  The whole thing has got out of proportion.  Then again, do his raging constituents see it that way?

On the other hand, will their anger last?  Prufrock has seen the polls.  But he is getting only half as many e-mails a day as after Dominic Cummings’ spin to Barnard Castle.

Cummings!  Prufrock sits bolt upright.  He mustn’t be allowed to win.  No.  Under no circumstances.  Nor all those Remoaners.  (He is a conventionally-minded Leaver.)

Macron.  Maugham.  Starmer.  Prufrock winces, like a rebel having his testicles tugged playfully by a whip.  The odious media.  The BBC.  Peston.  (Zing! Where are you? Caroline Nokes.)

Prufrock has no special attachment to Johnson.  He voted for him to save his seat, and his majority soared.  Joy.  But there has been national insurance, Paterson, wallpaper, Afghan dogs, small boats.  Frustration.

One emotion hasn’t resonated: gratitude.  Not all MPs, Conservative or otherwise, stock up on it.  Above all, they hate to be put on the spot in the lobby by Humble Addresses and U-turns.

Perhaps it is the Prime Minister’s way of addressing Prufrock as “Albert”, when he remembers his name at all, that has soured our hero’s spirits.  Or his burbling away in Greek.  Or quoting Shakespeare.

Shakespeare!  Untune that string, Alfred, and hark what discord follows.  (Bong!  Bandits at ten o’clock! Reach for the sky! Mark Francois.)  So Johnson goes.  What happens next?

Suppose the Prime Minister just storms out, lifting two fingers to the Palace.  Wouldn’t put it past him.  Who stands in while a leadership contest takes place?  Raab?

But what if Raab wants to stand himself?  Would the Cabinet, would the Party, allow him to take over?  Surely not.  But if not Raab, then who else?

Wallace? Perhaps. Gove? But would they have him?  And who is to decide, anyway?  Ministers?  All Tory MPs? The party as a whole?  Who takes soundings?  The whips?  The ’22?

It could probably be managed.  But how on earth could the party depose a Prime Minister with war on the boil in Ukraine?  What about recovery from Covid?  The booming economy?

The contest would have to be truncated. “Grey hairs”, “wise old birds” and “grown-ups” would seek to cut out the members.  Someone would go to court.  What then?

And would Sunak really be better?  Prufrock scarcely knows the Chancellor and has never seen Star Wars.  Or Truss? Prufrock writhes beneath her dominatrix-style gaze whenever they meet. Which is seldom.

An appalling thought strikes him.  Gray reports.  The letters don’t come.  Or worse, they do, and Johnson survives a ballot terminally wounded – just not dead yet.

Months go by of police leaks, interviews, sacked Downing Street aides taking their revenge through leaks and briefings, Today specials, Shippers exclusives.  The Government can’t get the monkey off its back.

What’s left of its authority leaks away beyond the capacity of any new leader to restore.  The party goes down to defeat.  Grummidge West turns red.

Ok, so I could put a letter in, he reasons.  But what if it leaks?  Suppose the Blob is bugging Sir Graham’s computer and hacking his computer?

(Prufrock isn’t quite sure what a Blob is.  A collective noun for civil servants?  A lump of chewing gum?  One of those horrible thingies on the seats in the members’ bathroom?  Whatever it is, it sounds dreadful.)

Or suppose Sir Graham is himself an agent of the Deep State?  In his mind, the ’22 Chairman’s kindly features dissolve to form again as a snarling mask.

Can he trust anyone with his fears?  Suppose Eddie Hughes is a double?  A triple?  What if he comes out against Johnson…and the Prime Minister survives?

Prufrock has his K and lives in hope of a P.  Not a chance if Johnson somehow rides out the storm, regroups – and purges his opponents.  Unlikely, but.

And if Spencer goes as Chief Whip, will his successor be more friendly or less?  Will Prufrock ever stretch his legs not on green benches, but red ones.

Beep-beep-beep.  Where were you last night?  Lady Prufrock. He groaned aloud, like a man yearning for the wings of a dove.

C.Lewis wrote that “the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts”.

Perhaps there is no hell and no heaven either.  But there is another destination.  Consider ways in which it can be reached.

A wooer wants to tell a woman that he loves her.  But whether through fear of rejection, embarrassment, shame or not being able to find the right words, he hesistates.  The moment is gone, never to return.

Or a soldier sees a comrade wounded on the battlefield.  Bullets rage.  He pauses.  After that split-second it’s too late.  His brother-in-arms will never make the surgeon’s table in time.

These are extremities of love and death.  But the same happens to all of us amidst the unexceptional, the mundane.  The easiest course to take when confronted by a decision is to put it off.

Which is what Prufrock settles on doing, insofar as he can settle on anything.  It’s all too complicated, too difficult – too dangerous.  Take a break and think about something else.  Maybe the whole problem will solve itself.

There are no signposts or milestones for Prufrock as he rises from his desk and lumbers to the door, with the rolling gait of a drunken alderman.  By not making a decision he has already made one.