The Sketch: We watched with all the cruel festivity of an execution crowd

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The Independent Online

One of life's more elusive, not to say unlikely, principles came to the fore yesterday: it is that nobody except Crispin Blunt knows anything.

The corridor consensus in the morning was that the plot had run out of steam, that the plotters had stalled, that Francis Maude's emergence from the shadows was a sign of desperation, that there were perhaps 14 letters in Sir Michael Spicer's safe but that the last 10 were the hardest to get, and the last five were impossible. Mr Blunt was the only person who got it right. I ran into him in near the Bell Tower. There was a strange light in his eyes, but he sounded steady. He was quite sure that the numbers were there, and the vote would be tomorrow. Mr Blunt is a hero of the revolution - we can only hope he isn't treated as such, with a life of ignominy, penury and persecution.

We were lunching in the press gallery canteen when the Express crouched down by the BBC and said there was something happening outside Conservative Central Office. Channel 4 came cantering out of the dining room. Sirens seemed to go off, the room emptied at a dizzying rate.

The Independent established an early lead over The Times and the Mail as we thundered down through the narrow submarine-style corridors in the centre of the Palace of Westminster.

The ruck turned into a maul and then formalised itself into a scrum outside Central Office. Even at that speed we hadn't been quick enough. A lone, slightly hunched figure was standing outside the front door of the Tory headquarters giving the nation the news. It was Andrew Marr.

The cattle bars had gone up to keep us at a distance but he and the other two great voices of the broadcast media were inside the pen.

There they stood, the BBC, ITV and Sky, within touching distance of each other talking intently, fluently, cogently into their separate microphones, gazing into their separate cameras. They looked like the three tenors, with Nick Robinson as Placido Domingo, Mr Marr as Jose Carreras and Adam Boulton as Luciano Pavarotti (we were watching this from the back). Magnificent performance of a complex, three-part recitative with intertwining harmonies.

The watchers looked on with all the cruel festivity of an execution crowd. An aide emerged to tell us the Tory leader was coming out. Wow, yes, that really would be news.

Eventually he marched out with his wife; she was smiling but her eyes looked damp, and that started mine pricking, damn them.

He said he was going to fight the vote of confidence, and that is the single most useful thing he can do for the party now. He must not allow his colleagues to persuade him to stand aside. A crushing defeat is the most important gift he can make the party.

We can only hope that he runs true to type, and only pray that he doesn't (don't laugh) win.