And so, the 54 have spoken or perhaps it is an even greater force. 54 is the number of Conservative MPs who have registered that they have no confidence in the leadership of Boris Johnson. The Prime Minister will now face a vote on his leadership at 6pm tonight.
He will win and win well, easily surpassing the 180 votes he needs to remain as leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.
This does not feel like the end for him, but it does feel like the beginning of the end.
Every MP has their tipping point, the issue that breaks them and propels them to seek to replace the leader.
For some it has been Johnson’s inability to govern coherently. Even before the Sue Gray report on Partygate, some concluded the game was up. The deeply damaging revelations have boosted the cause of the malcontents.
The sight and more importantly the sound of a Prime Minster being heckled during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations tells MPs that he is now so divisive in the country that he has now become a liability.
The optics of Saturday’s heckling was an appalling look. The Queen is seen by most people as a unifying figure, a representative of stability and a dignified presence on the national stage. In short, Johnson’s presence was for some an insult to all of her lauded virtues.
And, of course, backbench MPs have had the experience of the recent local elections and the tongue lashing of voters who are appalled by his behaviour.
That the vote is taking place tonight tells us that the Downing Street strategy is to get it out of the way, to win handsomely and move on. It is an attempt to draw a line on Partygate once and for all.
It is a strategy that will ultimately fail.
Partygate was a symptom of an inability to behave properly. The repeated political U-turns of this administration are a symptom of a Prime Minister with no political antennae. And the bouncing around on the cost-of-living crisis is a symptom of a politician who cannot dictate events. Rather they dictate to him.
Boris Johnson is the wrong man to be Prime Minister. When he delivered Brexit, his job was done. In their gut, Conservative MPs know that showmanship is no answer to the perpetual crises with which all governments have to contend.
They know that detail trips him up. They know too that he is incapable of forming far less prosecuting a political strategy to get on top of events.
And they know that their constituents are no longer buying ‘Boris the brand, that attempt to trump the laws of politics with the force of personality. The man who could deliver a witty line and tickle the funny bone of voters simply doesn’t realise that the joke is now on him.
When a leader faces a vote of no confidence, it rarely ends well. At just after 8pm tonight when the result is known, loyalists will be sent to stand in front of any camera, pledging their loyalty and demanding that everyone in the Parliamentary Party pull together to lead on the great issues of the day and win the next election.
Many will deliver this script whilst deep down knowing their lines are an aid to get the Prime Minister through tonight, tomorrow and the day after that. Johnson’s opponents will simply wait for the next event to be mismanaged.
Once you face a challenge, your authority is never the same. Sir Anthony Meyer was a stalking horse candidate who paved the way for Michael Heseltine to deal the fatal blow against Margaret Thatcher, even although Heseltine failed to land the Crown.
Theresa May won a vote of no confidence. But the issue that dogged her, delivering an exit agreement with the EU that could unite her party, would have buried whoever was PM at the time. Once she was challenged, her days were numbered.
The lesson of these votes is clear. They do not draw a line under matters, they merely intensify the pressure on whoever leads, and they embolden those who seek to overthrow.
There are more ‘tipping point’ issues on the horizon. Two by-elections on June 23 that the Tories look set to lose. A parliamentary inquiry into whether the Prime Minister deliberately misled MPs. And then the daily challenge of the job made bigger if the holder of the office of Prime Minister is capable of turning an issue into a crisis.
This event will now mean that cabinet colleagues will be forced to contemplate life after Johnson and will have to seriously ask themselves if they want to lead. What has been a conversation with themselves up until now will be broadened. Tonight’s vote is but a catalyst for plotting to get serious.
I have argued before that it is not any one issue that will do for the Prime Minister. It is the flaws of character, personality and judgement that will ultimately force Tory MPs to take him out.
When he wins tonight, he cannot be challenged for another year. That is the rule, the technical position he hopes will deliver him from his present predicament. Rules, however, are made to be broken and technicalities rarely win out in politics.
Today is the beginning of then end.