Prime Minister Gordon Brown (right) watches as members of the Afghan Helmand police perform a demonstration in which they arrest a mock suspect during a raid at the Helmand Police training centre, Lashkar Gah Photo: PA
Gordon Brown and David Cameron clashed angrily over the funding of the Afghanistan war today with the Conservative leader accusing Mr Brown of failing to accurately assess how costly the conflict would be while he was Chancellor.
In what was the fiercest confrontation at Prime Minister’s Questions this year Mr Brown mocked Mr Cameron for being “at school” when the Cold War was being won.
Mr Cameron said senior former military figures had criticised the Prime Minister’s evidence to the Iraq Inquiry last week. He said it had been described as “disingenuous” and “dissembling”.
Faced with that accusation two Labour MPs shouted across the Chamber that the reason the former chiefs of defence staff had attacked Mr Brown was because they were “Tories.” Mr Cameron reacted furiously.
He said: “Oh, it’s because they’re ‘Tories’ is it? That is what this tribalist, divisive Government thinks about people who serve our country.”
The Conservative leader turned to Mr Brown and said: “You should get up and disassociate yourself completely from what your colleagues have said.”
He added: “Your MPs have questioned the integrity of people who served this country, fought for this country, who are essays in bravery.”
Mr Brown replied: “I’ve never at any time criticised the patriotism of anyone involved in the defence establishment of this country.
He added: “But I think we should have a debate about this which is serious and based on facts. Every request that was made to us by the MoD for urgent operational requirements was met.”
Mr Cameron said that new figures showed that the Treasury, while Mr Brown was Chancellor, had “massively under-estimated the cost of the war in Afghanistan.”
Mr Brown hit back told MPs that defence spending had risen and £9 billion had been poured into the operation in Afghanistan, on top of the general defence budget.
He said that Mr Cameron could not deny that defence spending had gone up every year in real terms and contrasted it with defence cuts in the 1990s under the Conservatives.
Mr Cameron retorted that that was because the Conservatives had “won the Cold War.” He went on to accuse mocking Labour MPs for wearing “CND badges” at that time.
Mr Brown, pointing to Mr Cameron, said: “Mr Speaker, I seem to remember that he was at school at the time.”
Amid raucous scenes in what is likely to be one of the last three Prime Minister’s Questions before the election, Mr Cameron said he welcomed Mr Brown’s statement that the election would be about character.
But Mr Brown taunted Mr Cameron over the “non-dom” tax status of Lord Ashcroft. The Prime Minister said he would take no lectures on integrity from an Opposition leader who would not answer questions on the Tory deputy chairman.
Liam Fox, the shadow defence secretary, later questioned Mr Brown’s claim about rising defence spending under Labour.
He said: “There was a real-terms cut to the defence budget by £536m between 2003-04 and 2004-05.”