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UK election rivals in final parliamentary clash

By Melissa Gray, CNN
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown leaves Downing Street for Parliament on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown leaves Downing Street for Parliament on Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Final Prime Minister's Questions offers taste of election campaign to come
  • Prime Minister Brown trades barbs with rival leaders Cameron and Clegg
  • Oakley: No sense of sorrow over end of parliament dogged by sleaze scandals
  • Parliament to be dissolved Monday ahead of May 6 general election

London, England (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown traded barbs with political rivals Wednesday in the last Prime Minister's Questions before the general election.

The weekly session in the House of Commons was more about electoral positioning than current legislation as Brown, of the ruling Labour Party, battled with Conservative Party leader David Cameron.

Brown announced Tuesday that the current parliament will be dissolved Monday ahead of the election, which will be held May 6.

There were "no revelations, no drama, no sense of history" during the session, said CNN political contributor Robin Oakley -- just a taste of what is to come during the next month of electioneering.

Follow CNN's UK election blog

"It is the last chance for this prime minister to show that he is accountable for the decisions that he has made," Cameron said, before taking Brown to task on the ongoing question of whether British troops in Afghanistan have enough helicopters and other equipment.

Brown responded that his government had "done our best" to equip the troops and would continue to do so.

"It is right that I take full responsibility, but I take the advice of our commanding officers, and the advice of our commanding officers is very clear," Brown said.

"That answer sums up this premiership," Cameron replied. Brown "takes no responsibility and always blames somebody else. Why can't he just admit something that everybody knows to be true -- there weren't enough helicopters?"

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"I think," said Brown, "he should accept that our troops, for the operations that they are asked to undertake, have been given the equipment they need."

Profile: Will Brown's 'clunking fist' prevail?

The back-and-forth prompted a lot of noise in the chamber, and House Speaker John Bercow had to call several times for members to be quiet.

"The House must calm down," Bercow said, repeatedly shouting for order. "Members should save their voices for the conversations they'll need to have with their constituents in the coming weeks."

Other issues that came up were the government's taxation policy on pension dividends and its planned hike in National Insurance contributions, which the Conservatives say is a "tax on jobs" because employers will be forced to pay it. Cameron said it would "wreck the recovery."

Profile: Can Cameron seal deal with British voters?

Brown said that by opposing the tax hike, the Conservatives would be taking money out of the economy.

"Once again, he said nothing about the future," Brown said of Cameron, who has led the Conservatives since 2005. "It's the same old Tories, Mr. Speaker. To think, he was the future once."

Nick Clegg, the leader of the UK's third largest party, the Liberal Democrats, tried to point out the election is not a two-party race.

Clegg nodded at both Cameron and Brown but made a point of not naming them when he said, "Mr. Speaker, he and he are trying to fool people that they're serious about political reform."

Oakley said the public could expect similar messages to be hammered home over the next few weeks of the campaign.

Analysis: UK faces election with a difference

"What was clearly lacking was any sense of sorrow at the ending of a parliament which had become a byword for sleaze and corruption scandals over (lawmakers') expenses, over ex-ministers offering themselves for hire as lobbyists, and party funders concealing their evasion of British taxes," Oakley said, referring to the range of scandals that have plagued British politics in the past year.

"Most were only too keen to see it come to an end. The big question is whether, against such a background, the electors will bother to listen to the thrust and counter-thrust of electioneering and to turn out to vote."

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