KEITH NEWBERY Defiant Tories have landed a blow over EU

“If not now, when?”

Having uttered these four words, Conservative MP Charles Walker sat down and immediately went into the record books for making the shortest speech in House of Commons history.

It came during the debate on the EU referendum, when Walker was one of the 81 Tories who defied a three-line whip and delivered a hefty blow which landed flush on the end of David Cameron’s stately nose and put it drastically out of joint.

And nobody can say he didn’t deserve it.

What deluded sense of primacy possessed the man to turn an internal party squabble into a personal embarrassment?

What level of brass-necked hypocrisy was required to order his MPs to vote against the referendum pledge they (and he) had given the electorate at the last election?

Whatever the result of the vote, this was a public argument David Cameron was always going to lose.

It was important, therefore, to find the best way of mitigating the defeat and ensuring it didn’t do permanent damage to his party or his leadership.

He failed miserably on both counts – and will be paying the price for years to come.

Consider these words, for a moment: “If the new prime minister, like us, really believes in power to the people, then he must hold a referendum on the new EU treaty.”

A noble sentiment which could have been addressed to Cameron during this week’s debate.

Unfortunately for the prime minister, this was a statement he directed towards Gordon Brown in 2007.

Nothing more vividly describes the grubby, unedifying and undemocratic U-turn he performed this week.

In essence, he ordered his back-benchers – on threat of lost preferment – to vote against a principle championed by the party at the last election and elevated to the status of a parliamentary debate by the e-petition initiative launched by their own government.

It is difficult to think of a more grotesque own-goal.

William Hague – an avowed Eurosceptic – did himself few favours with a display of haughty ambiguity which will have lost him admirers on all sides of the party.

The rift in the Tory ranks has been irretrievably levered open by Cameron himself – and future leadership rivals Boris Johnston and Michael Gove are doing their best not to appear too grateful.

* What we can learn from the French...

One of the highlights of the Rugby World Cup was undoubtedly the French team’s response to the New Zealand haka at the start of the final.

Faced with 15 beefy fellows slapping their thighs, grunting and poking out their tongues in a provocative fashion, they formed themselves into an arrow-head and moved forward to confront the challenge.

Rumours that it was actually 14 Frenchmen thrusting their skipper forward to take the brunt of the ceremonial derision should be ignored.

The next time England face New Zealand, they should also fall back on ancient tradition before the kick-off and respond by performing a Morris dance.

In terms of intimidating the opposition, it would be far more effective than any war ritual.