When Sir Graham Brady revealed the outcome of the vote on Theresa May’s leadership, it wasn’t only the result that had TV viewers transfixed. The venue and atmosphere of table banging and roaring approval didn’t pass without comment.
Committee room 14 in the Palace of Westminster is no stranger to momentous events. But for those watching from home on Wednesday evening, the sight and aura of the room felt other-worldly. Conservative MPs, who earlier in the evening had cast their votes on whether Theresa May should remain party leader, sat crammed together on opposing tiered benches.
A narrow gangway of heavily patterned carpet was all that separated them.
MPs on both sides of the room craned their necks to watch as Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee – an organisation of backbench Tory MPs – announced the outcome.
“The result of the ballot held this evening is that the parliamentary party does have confidence…”
But before he could continue his momentous declaration, the room erupted in table thumping, applause and growling cheers in support of Mrs May.
It was, perhaps, not the most contemporary projection of parliamentary life – a fact which didn’t escape many of those watching at home.
Others were less than impressed by the way those present responded to the outcome of the vote.
The room itself, like the rest of the Palace of Westminster, is steeped in history. Designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin in the mid-19th Century, its fixtures and fittings appear to make barely a nod to modernity. The only notable exception when Sir Graham stood to talk, was a wall-mounted flat-screen monitor, in the top right-hand corner.
“It doesn’t feel like anywhere that my constituents would have anything to do with,” says Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda and author of Parliament, The Biography.
“It’s a bit like a mini-House of Commons, with the raked benches on either side facing each other. When it’s full, it feels really quite intense.”
The heavy atmosphere is doubtless intensified by the deep green, reproduction Pugin wallpaper – which replaced a lighter green woodchip variety, itself the result of an previous, budget-conscious renovation – and leather and oak “Portcullis” chairs, nailed with brass studs.
Although it may have appeared cramped to those watching on TV on Wednesday, it is actually the largest of the committee rooms, says Mr Bryant. It plays host to meetings of all Labour MPs on Monday nights, and Wednesday night gatherings of the 1922 Committee.
The 1922 committee was actually set up in 1923 by Conservative MPs who were elected at the previous year’s general election.
The large painting that could be seen hanging above Sir Graham’s head dates from mid-Victorian times. Gladstone’s Cabinet of 1868, by Lowes Cato Dickinson, pictures 15 men, many in winged collars and cravats, locked in serious debate.
Things have moved on since those days, with the Commons now including many women MPs as well as people from a far wider range of backgrounds.
But for some on social media, diversity was still an issue.
It was some years after the scene depicted in the painting that the room witnessed perhaps its most divisive of meetings.
Over three successive days, says Mr Bryant, it became the venue for debates among the Irish Parliamentary Party, which backed home rule on the island of Ireland. The debates could not save the party, which divided into opposing factions.
Theresa May and many others will hope the confidence ballot result in committee room 14 doesn’t serve as a prelude to a similar fate for the Conservative Party.