Even before the result of the Tory no confidence vote was announced, the mood in Committee Room 14 was rather jovial. Chief Whip Julian Smith appeared minutes before the result, looking both exhausted and happy. Nerves were sufficiently calm for someone to crack a joke in the pause between Sir Graham Brady arriving and him starting to speak. ‘Let us pray!’ they quipped, sending the room into fits of giggles. In fact, the mood was almost eerily cheery, a bit like someone who has spent all night awake drinking coffee.
When Brady announced that the Conservative party does indeed have confidence in Theresa May, the Tory MPs present broke into loud and pointed cheers. But then there was a gasp as the 1922 Committee chair revealed the numbers: 200 to 117 is much closer than those around the Prime Minister had been hoping.
Members of the European Research Group were notably absent from the Committee Room. I spotted two hot-footing it away from Parliament just as the ballot closed. Others were ready in the broadcast studios to spin that the result shows that a large number of MPs – those who aren’t on the payroll, according to Jacob Rees-Mogg – don’t have confidence in May.
The contrast between that eerie cheer on the committee corridor and the trenchant tone of the group who have just managed to lose the vote they’d been pushing for shows that tonight’s result resolves very little. The Tory party is split – and MPs are angrier with one another than ever before. The Brexiteers are angry about what they see as a stitch up in holding a vote so fast and about their colleagues’ inability to ditch May. Many in the rest of the party are angry with the Brexiteers for creating such a noisy distraction and giving the Conservatives’ opponents yet more reason to ridicule them as a party that cannot govern. It’s not clear that this result has really changed anything. Though May is now safe from another such vote for a year, she has told her party that she will be going before the next election anyway. It is still not clear how she can get modifications to her Brexit deal or get that deal through the Commons. So, in short, despite all the drama today, nothing has changed.