So difficult to get the tone right on these occasions, isn't it?' the Queen once remarked as her then prime minister explained away a sterling crisis to sceptical voters on TV. Watching MPs struggling with their response to Frank Dobson after he had done his Big Spender's lap of honour round the Commons stadium, I had the same feeling.

Dobbo and his team were, of course, genuinely thrilled. 'It's mega-dosh day, but I still can't tell you how much,' Joe 'Enforcer' McCrea had told reporters while solemnly tipping them off that some rival hacks suspected the Department of Health total would be pounds10bn over three years.

That was hours before Gordon Brown unleashed the torrent of 'Spend, Spend, Spend' headlines, which are not, incidentally, an unqualified compliment from the Daily Mail. And as we all now know, it was twice that sum - pounds21bn - though this is a three-year cumulative total. 'Make sure you leave in the word cumulative,' I told my Guardian news desk colleagues.

One Cabinet minister told me that Gordon Brown had been more interested in making sure that health got its share of whatever largesse was available, while Tony Blair was the one punting for education. But having heard the PM in private a few days earlier, that was not my impression: he seemed very clued up and keen on doing right by the NHS, not least motivating its staff.

However, I do not share the Labour view that Ann Widdecombe went completely barmy with her 'look me in the eyes, Frank' response. She was sort-of- right to stress that the NHS will basically be just pounds9bn a year better off in three years' time and that the 'real terms' percentage increase is more sensibly expressed as 3.7 over the parliament rather than a 'record' 4.7 between 1999-2002. The Tories managed 3.1 per cent over 18 years.

But even a couple of billion in real terms is worth a pat-ette on the back. And didn't Ms Widdecombe say in the Commons only the week before: 'I have calculated that the government will have to spend at least pounds8bn over three years to stand still and to match average Conservative spending levels.' The Lib Dems' Simon Hughes put the figure at pounds9bn.

Either way Dobbo certainly passes the test handsomely. The real question is: will he really get the promised loot when the time comes? This week's Economist, which dubs the chancellor 'The Iron Santa Claus', endorses the gloom-mongers who say his claims to be prudent are a gamble. Current spending (on salaries, for instance) and capital spending (those 30 new private finance initiative hospitals) will rise faster than he admits. Economic growth to pay for it all may be lower than predicted.

It that happens we could be looking at higher inflation, higher interest rates and higher taxes, a very Old Labour scenario which Iron Gordon - no relation at all to Santa Brown - has been anxious to shake off this past 15 months. Indeed there was some suggestion by the weekend that the chancellor's statement had insufficiently stressed the disciplinary side of the package: all that 'contract' stuff, dosh only in return for modernisation and close monitoring of each department's performance.

Certainly, Dobbo's Commons statement is open to that criticism. You can't blame an old lefty for enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw money at his beloved NHS. Not so many stern words about performance and efficiency targets. It is one of the chinks in ministerial spending review armour that no one can imagine Enforcer McCrea's mega-dosh being forcibly removed if Hospital X or Y fails to perform to order...

Then there is the question of pay. The Treasury always feeds the Tory press tough talk about tough squeezes, and Mr Brown's strategic objectives are to be fed into the remit of the 'independent' pay review bodies which will have to report to the secretary of state was well as Number 10. It's easy to see 2.5 per cent being hard to deliver when there are staff shortages, incentive payments and a minimum wage.

But there I am being a miserable old brute again. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, as Wordsworth put it in 1789... Of course, he ended up a miserable old brute, too.