Here is a tale of two citizens, of courtesy and discourtesy, on which I stumbled during the week. Since this column believes in being cheerful whenever possible - a small contribution to NHS morale - let us start with the better angel of our nature, as Abraham Lincoln once put it.

I had been curious to trace the origin of reports a fortnight ago that the Princess Royal Hospital at Hayward's Heath in mid-Sussex spent£1,019 on a D-grade nurse which it hired from an agency for a single 12-hour shift last August bank holiday.

I found it in a Commons debate initiated by local Tory MP Nicholas Soames about the financial pressures the hospital faces as it merges with Brighton's Royal Sussex into a single trust.

Mr Soames had a serious case to make to junior health minister Hazel Blears, but he did so with the relentless old-fashioned courtesy which is his hallmark. I sometimes suspect that some of the Churchill family melancholy lurks behind it, but even when angry, the former Cavalry officer is usually civil.

The case was about money; midSussex is home to rapidly growing numbers, as well as many old people. It expects to end the year with a£3.3m deficit, thanks to bed-blocking, acute staff recruitment and retention shortages, the upgrade of junior hospital doctor hours, the waiting-list initiative etc.

A familiar litany of complaints - and Mr Soames did not get it all his own way.Ms Blears is David to his Goliath, as petite as the 'MidSussex food mountain' (Tony Banks' affectionate description) is giant-like. She hinted at poor financial controls.After all, the hospital had not predicted a deficit last spring and it had got its share - sometimes more - of extra cash sloshing around the system to improve newly identified problems.

''Challenging' is an over-used word in this place, ' she conceded.

And she refused to back down on the merger (which Mr Soames broadly supports), let alone wipe clean the deficit to get the new trust off to a better start.

But she did promise to 'take on board' the MP's complaints.

So much for some micro-health management. Cut now to the big picture, where Field Marshal Blair and his staff officers are grappling with their domestic targets - health, education, poverty - while not busy with the Taliban. I read weekend reports of new rows between the premier and his chancellor, Gordon Brown, with some scepticism.

Why? Because Mo Mowlam, out of office since 7 June, had given a TV interview stirring it all up again, and that is sometimes a green light to the media to start a little stirring of its own. Everyone knows the Brown-Blair relationship is tense.They get by.

My scepticism did not survive beyond my first Sunday night phone call. I was surprised how much animosity the chancellor has created against himself through what one minister calls his 'unpleasant bullyboy style'. Though charm itself when he wants to be, Mr Brown has never suffered fools or their opinions gladly, and being an undeniably bright chap thinks most other people fall into that category.

'I do not know what Gordon's people have done, but they have incensed every member of the Cabinet.

The phones have been ringing, ' another senior minister told me.Does this tittle-tattle matter to you and your job? You betcha it does, because it may affect the flow of extra funds for Mr Soames' local hospital - and everyone else's - as the economy tightens.

Put simply, Mr Brown's belief in his ambitious and laudable anti-poverty programme is not universally shared. Some ministers believe it doesn't work well enough and doesn't help the poorest.

Others simply believe it makes better sense to divert any extra money into the schools and hospitals of Middle Britain - Middle Sussex included. That is where the pressure lies - and the votes. Unsurprisingly, health secretary Alan Milburn, though sensitive to poverty, is in the latter camp. So are most ministers as next week's annual pre-Budget statement looms. do not expect General Gordon to be fired.Do expect trouble.