The reference of Boris Johnson to the Privileges Committee, after the collapse of the Conservative whips’ original position, is the best recent guide to the mood of Tory backbenchers.  In a nutshell, it’s wait and see.

Wait and see how many further fixed penalty notices the Prime Minister receives.  Wait and see what Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street social gatherings has to say.  Wait and see if the public attitude to them changes.

Some Conservative MPs report that Partygate is raised often on the doorstep while others claim that it is raised seldom.  And there is now a new element to wait and see for: Keir Starmer’s Beergate.

Furthermore, not all his internal opponents favour a leadership challege now, because they fear that he would win it, without which a further challenge would not be possible for a year under present rules.

And Rishi Sunak seems no longer to be an heir apparent. So it has not recently been likely that Johnson would face an immediate leadership challenge after these local and national elections.

But if those Tory MPs conclude that local voters gave the Conservatives a kicking yesterday, then the odds will tilt back towards a ballot soon.  What will they decide?

The Conservatives are down 344 councillors as I write, have lost 13 councils, and are currently on 30 per cent of the vote, seven per cent down from the roughly comparable 2018 contest.

Only five of those councils have gone directly to Labour.  The party picked up one: Harrow.  And it lost one to the Liberal Democrats: Gosport.

In a nutshell, these results look like a kicking in most of London, and in Southampton and Crawley, and a slap across the face in a miscellany of other mostly southern councils.

In the Midlands and North, and bits of the South, voters’ verdict was mixed: the Conservatives held on to Newcastle-under-Lyme, Pendle, Swindon and Walsall while  Burnley, Hartlepool and Hyndburn remain under no overall control.

I’m not claiming that people queued up to applaud Downing Street parties, and the Tories lost Worcester and Huntingdonshire, but these elections were a defeat, not a rout.

It’s possible that the Liberal Democrats, who gained two councils and lost none, will march on through Gosport, Maidstone, Somerset, Wokingham and West Oxfordshire to win many more Conservative heartland seats in 2024.

And that Labour will build on their gains in Crawley, Southampton and Worthing in the south; and in, say, Dudley in the West Midlands to make unexpected gains at the next election, aided by tactical voting and unofficial pacts.

In that way, the Conservatives would be squeezed between red and orange.  But the Liberal Democrats are a long way behind in most southern constituencies and won’t be able to campaign everywhere at once.

Tactical voting is easier proclaimed than done, as the efforts of anti-Brexit campaigners in 2019 proved once again – and then there is Labour’s performance overall.

At 35 per cent of the vote, it is actually one per cent below its 2018 share, though some five points ahead of the Tories, more or less where the party is in Politico’s poll of polls.

Some Tory MPs other than the usual suspects will be agitated by these results and want Johnson gone.  But there is a good case for – you guessed it: waiting and seeing.

Blue fade” in the south is precisely that – fade, over several elections (if it truly manifests itself in the first place), and the Conservative position in the Midlands and North, including the Red Wall, doesn’t look too bad.

It may also be the Government recovers as the next election approaches, as David Cameron’s and Margaret’s Thatcher’s did before it.

That has been the usual though by no means the invariable pattern in modern times, and whatever Starmer’s rate of progress with voters may be it’s nothing like Tony Blair’s.

And for the third article running on these elections, I remind readers that “most Conservative MPs either have no elections in their constituencies or only for a minority of their councillors, often in a minority of the wards”.

So they won’t have furious ex-councillors or council leaders urging them to give the Prime Minister a piece of their mind, or write a letter to Graham Brady.

Nor are Tory MPs likely, I’m afraid, to factor the results in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland carefully into their calculations.

My theme this evening isn’t about the ethics of Johnson’s position – whether it would be right or wrong for him to go.  It isn’t even, strictly speaking, about the politics: that’s to say, whether it would be prudent.

It’s about the mindset of the Sir Alfred Prufrocks of the backbenches, who can always find a reason for putting a decision off.  And sometimes to put a decision off is also to make one.

Though I would be horrified, were I a Tory MP pondering the coming Queen’s Speech, by what the crash, a pandemic and now a war have done to the world and to the country.

As a recent Twitter thread noted, our productivity is 20 per cent below the level it would have reached if it had continued on its pre-crash path.

Real wages are set to be lower in 2025 than in 2008.  The Government has announced as Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have announced tax rises worth as much of GDP in two years as New Labour did in ten.

Record numbers of young adults in their 20s and 30s are living with their parents.  For the first time recently, half of women in England and Wales remained childless by their 30th birthday.

British households face a record 54 per cent energy bill rise as the price cap is raised.  There is a crisis for young people, of housing and of labour mobility, and for their family prospects.

If Labour has no inclination to reduce the rate of growth in spending, so providing a solid base for tax cuts, the Prime Minister himself shows no particular interest in it either.

The Queen’s speech for 2022-23 leaves only next year’s of 2023-24, and the next general election is most likely to take place in the last of those years.  Time is running out for the Government.