MPs knew as well as anyone else that some sort of showdown was coming over the dear old blood transfusion service ever since the National Blood Authority swept away the 50-year-old patchwork five years ago last week. In the AIDS era blood is a sensitive as well as symbolic commodity.

So when five of the 15 regional centres - Oxford, Cambridge, Liverpool, Lancaster and Plymouth - were marked for closure, even loyal old Tories like Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman, then MP for Lancaster, joined the public outcry against the£10m saving scheme. Last week Liverpool Labour was in full cry.

But sackings like that inflicted on the NBA's chair, Sir Colin Walker, by Frank Dobson are comparatively rare. Derek Lewis got kicked out of the Prison Service job, you may recall. But he was just a smart manager and was dealing with Michael ('Something of the Night') Howard in that illuminating row over the difference between 'policy' and 'operational' responsibility.

Sixty three-year-old Sir Colin, on the other hand, does not belong to what we might call the torturable classes (ie most of us). His Who's Who entry reveals a classic Great and Good profile: a rich Suffolk landowner (the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, not Oxford, for him), who sits on committees, lives in a Hall and lists 'shooting' among his hobbies.

But he is also a Tory, and therefore natural target practice for an old class warrior like Dobbo. He might even have enjoyed giving the push to such a reluctant sitting duck: 'Misinformed or misunderstood briefings. . . a disturbing isolation of NBA HQ from operational realities. . . instructions inappropriately researched. . .'

These were the words - which definitely sound operational - most widely quoted from the Commons statement made by Mr Dobson. In fact, they came from the appropriately named Professor John Cash, who did the inquiry which may lead to Liverpool getting its vital processing and testing functions back, as - Dobbo made clear - Oxford, Cambridge and Plymouth will not.

No, the phrase which stuck with me came when the secretary of state explained how he had told Sir Colin that 'as a general principle, I believed that those at the top of an organisation had to take responsibility for it'. Harsh but fair, and the listening Tory spokesman, Patrick Nicholls, will doubtless have noted it for Frank's own file.

Mr Nicholls naturally blamed the crisis, not on the Tory reorganisation of the NBA, but on 'a chronic deficit in its management and leadership', which gave Scouse Labour MPs like Derek Twigg the chance to point out that former health secretary Stephen Dorrell was as well informed as Mr Dobson about the deep unhappiness in Merseyside - but failed to act.

As Dobbo told the House, 'to reverse every damn thing the previous government did that was stupid would take all the time and money in the world', so the other closures are likely to stick.

All the same, I couldn't help noticing how such cycles repeat themselves. Earlier the same day leftwing troublemaker Llew Smith, Michael Foot's successor in what's now called Blaenau Gwent, was complaining at the merger of Gwent's health authorities, as proposed by Labour's Welsh health minister, Win Griffiths.

Will it fall to Mr Nicholls to reverse it one distant day?

A small historic footnote: Mr Dobson revealed that he does not give blood himself because he once had jaundice. He also suggested that most MPs would give 'their right or left arm' to have been president of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, as Professor Cash had been.

Mr Nicholls cried out: 'Including you?' 'Oh certainly, I would find that an immense distinction.' Ah, yes. But how many limbs would he give to be mayor of London?