David Maddox: Opening salvoes of the campaign proper draw a little blood on both sides

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FEW would have has Tory leader David Cameron marked down as a hero of the Cold War.

As the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1989 he was sitting in Smith Square as a "Patsy" (politically ambitious twentysomething) working as a researcher for the Conservative Party – although the Prime Minister seemed to think yesterday he may still have been terrorising fags at Eton.

But such was the tenor of yesterday's exchange of heavy artillery fire in Prime Minister's Questions, what would have been the point of letting a few facts spoil the fun?

The political battalions were finally getting ready for the real action as the budget date announced yesterday in effect set the parties on course to a defining final battle on 6 May.

So what started off as sniper fire in PMQs over Mr Brown's record on supporting the military was going to escalate.

The big guns – the former military chiefs Guthrie, Dannatt and Boyce – had already blasted Mr Brown over his evidence to the Chilcot inquiry. Cameron waded in where they left off.

But as he began to quote the accusations of "dissembling" and "disingenuous" made against the Prime Minister, the Labour backbenches roared back with the own fusillade accusing the military chaps of being "Tories".

"That is what this tribalist, divisive government thinks about people who serve our country," shouted Mr Cameron. He demanded Brown disassociate himself from the "disgrace slur".

The Prime Minister was having none of it, carefully saying that he would not question anybody's patriotism. But he insisted that the central charge that he had cut funds to the military was wrong.

"Every request that was made to us by the MoD for urgent operational requirements was met," he said. "We've spent 18 billion in Afghanistan and Iraq on top of the MoD budget."

Unlike the Tories he noted, who cut it by 30 per cent in the 1990s. "That's because we won the Cold War under the Conservatives," retorted Mr Cameron, to howls of derision and triumphalist cheering.

Once Speaker Bercow restored order, the Tory leader added: "We all remember who were wearing the CND badges at the time."

But Labour have one weapon they will be using a lot in the coming weeks and, as Mr Brown wondered whether Mr Cameron was still at school when the Cold War was won, he picked it up.

"The Conservative Party talk about the new politics. But how can there be new politics with Lord Ashcroft?

"The Conservative Party talk about modernisation. But how can there be modernisation with Lord Ashcroft?

"And the Conservative Party talk about change. But how can they ever change as long as Lord Ashcroft is vice chairman of their party?"

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