In a high and splendid chamber overlooking the Thames, a shock result was declared. At the back of the room, 50 members of the press were admitted to hear the announcement.
In front of the journalists a milling mass of MPs crowded in, blocking the view. Everyone stood and craned to see Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, as he entered and in a loud voice gave the bare result: 211 votes in favour of Boris Johnson, 148 against.
A strange, low whistle of amazement as soon as the figures were known, followed by a great drumming of desks by those MPs who support the Prime Minister: the traditional way in which the Tory tribe demonstrates its approval.
But beneath the magnificent history paintings which adorn Committee Room 14, many MPs stood in silence, and were not applauding.
Johnson’s performance was worse than almost everyone at Westminster who had ventured a forecast, including most of my colleagues in the press, had expected.
Before the vote, there was among many of the spectators an atmosphere of hectic gaiety. There was nothing much to do apart from crack jokes.
Afterwards, a sombre mood reigned. We were watching a blood sport, and the quarry, a man fighting for his political life, had been wounded not just by 54 of his followers who put in letters against him, but by almost three times as many who cast their ballots against him.
“It’s not very good, is it,” I remarked to a colleague as we traipsed back to the Press Gallery, in a less gilded part of the palace.
“It’s very bad,” the colleague replied.
That certainly was how it felt, and the blow was the worse because only a few hours earlier Johnson had been given the chance to defend himself in a speech to Conservative MPs in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House, the modern part of the palace above Westminster Underground Station.
Those of us waiting in search of enlightenment outside the meeting did not find it. From within the room came a tremendous noise of drumming: Tory MPs greeting their leader. Then a burst of laughter: Tory MPs showing their appreciation of one of the leader’s jokes.
Yet many MPs maintained an ominous silence about how they were actually going to vote. There was no sign that the party was rallying round him in his hour of need, averting the threat before it became perilous.
On the contrary, there were quite frequent increases in the number of declared rebels, and many of them were the kind of solid, decent people who lend weight to a cause, though not inspiration.
After the vote, Johnson came on the television. He wore a shell-shocked smile as he claimed he had far more support from Conservative MPs than he did when he became leader.
“I don’t think that people want to talk about stuff that goes on at Westminster,” he added.
He pointed out that as a nation, “we have a lot of natural strengths, not least the lowest unemployment since 1974”.
People were simply not interested, he insisted several times, in the media’s agenda.
How he must hope that is true. But he stumbled over the words as he said them, and all the world knew 148 of his own MPs had just knifed him.