The few who did show up were nearly shell-shocked and began to lick their wounds, much like an en route battalion.

No laughter. No smiles. No cheery ‘What-ho’s to colleagues swanning into the chamber.

No, not since Theresa May almost let Jeremy Corbyn’s Commie cabal squeeze in through the Downing Street catflap back in 2017 have Conservative MPs looked quite so humiliated.

It’s clear the Owen Paterson hoo-haa has well and truly knocked the wind out of Tory bellies. Some were angry. Other people were simply ashamed.

For the first time in Boris Johnson’s premiership, the faintest whiff of mutiny lingered.

And that’s because they were being forced to sit through a three-hour debate on parliamentary standards following last week’s disastrous decision by the Government to vote against Paterson’s suspension.

Sparse: MPs are few and far between on the Government side of the Commons yesterday while Labour turn out in force

There are few MPs in the Parliament yesterday, while Labour turns out to be present

Three long hours of nannyish lecturing and finger-wagging from the rammed Opposition benches revelling in the Government’s discomfiture.

It is no surprise that only a few Tories were there.

The Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle granted the debate following a request by the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip Wendy Chamberlain.

Sir Lindsay felt the buzzing of bile around the room and called for calm. ‘Let’s do this right,’ he implored. It’s possible he could have spoken Mongolian.

Miss Chamberlain had already gotten up on her feet and was now comparing Parliament to The Duma.

Seasoned grandstander Tan Dhesi (Lab, Slough) fancied a bit of that action – chipping in to describe the PM as a ‘tinpot dictator’.

Sir Lindsay groaned in frustration. There wasn’t much Sir Lindsay could do.

Boris, however, did not sign. According to the Speaker, he was a regular visitor at a North East hospital. Labour MPs jeered.

Even some were able to imitate chickens.

‘Run, Boris! Run!’ cried one.

Out of the firing line: Boris visits Hexham Hospital in Northumberland on Monday

Boris visited Hexham Hospital in Northumberland Monday, out of the firing line

Steve Barclay, minister for Cabinet Office, responded instead to the government

Ordinarily, the task should have fallen to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg but after last week’s shenanigans he had clearly been benched.

And, judging by the fretful look on Mogg’s face, he hadn’t taken the demotion well.

Barclay started by regretting. Last week’s vote, he conceded, had been a ‘mistake’. He went through his speech twice as fast. Clearly couldn’t wait to be done.

Sir Keir starmer flew to the feet. It was amazing to see how happy he seemed after being tested positive for Covid in the middle of August.

Maybe his coworkers are more so. Labour’s opinion polls always seem to flourish when their leader’s locked away. Sir Keir is a master of this. 

He accused the Prime Minister of ‘dragging us all into the gutter’ and ‘leading his party through the sewer’. He claimed he was destroying democracy.

These are the words of the man who attempted to reverse Brexit. All afternoon, the Opposition MPs made a blundering sound and grated their teeth.

But most worrying for Downing Street were the attacks which emanated from the Government’s own benches.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with medical staff during a visit to Hexham General Hospital in Hexham

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister meets with members of medical staff at Hexham General Hospital.

They had remained largely mute until the final half-hour when several young ’uns stepped forward to swing the boot.

Mark Fletcher (Conservative, Bolsover), who serves on the Standards Committee, was furious.

He insisted Paterson ‘would have been found to have broken the rules under any process you could create’.

Aaron Bell (Con, Newcastle-under-Lyme) said the decision to whip last week’s vote was a ‘colossal misjudgment’.

But the punchiest speech came from little Mark Harper (Con, Forest of Dean) – a former chief whip, no less – whose attacks on the Government grow fiercer by the day.

His definition of politics was a game for the team. They should make solid decisions if the captain of the team expects loyalty.

He demanded that the PM visit the House to apologise.

Down on the front bench, Harper’s successor as chief whip Mark Spencer wore a heavy hangdog expression.

It was time to meet with the boss at No10. There’s trouble brewing in the ranks.