Among Labour's hopefuls is Reg Race, a management consultant in the health service who has worked in 102 trusts and health authorities.

'I know where all the bodies are buried, ' he says.

The candidate for Chesterfield - following Tony Benn's retirement - has been an MP already, in London's Wood Green from 1979 to 1983.

Before that he spent seven years as an NHS policy adviser to trade union NUPE, claiming to have spent the 'winter of discontent' being 'a boring backroom person'.

Thanks to the boundary commission's 'abolition' of his seat, he moved on to become head of the programme office at Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council, taking charge of policy implementation and£4bn of budget planning until the GLC too was abolished - this time by Margaret Thatcher - in 1986.

Labour has a majority of 5,775 over the Liberal Democrats in Chesterfield, so he stands a fair chance of returning to the Commons - to the chagrin of some local left-wingers, angry at the 'mainstream Labour' man's role in the expulsion from the party of MEP Ken Coates.

Managers, though, might find a new friend. 'I do think people have got the wrong end of the stick about NHS managers, ' he says. 'It is a£50bn a year business, industry, service, whatever you want to call it. It is absurd to think one man and a dog can run that.'

And he pledges: 'I will say until the cows come home. The service needs to be managed effectively and I'll argue for the people, process and resources to do that.'

Also standing:

John Robinson is the challenger in Grantham and Stamford, where the Conservatives have a majority of just 2,692.

'We'd love to see a Labour candidate there, ' he says - It is Margaret Thatcher's birthplace.

And as a Sedgefield councillor, Tony Blair is his MP.

A long NHS career, starting as a nurse and ending as acting director at Hartlepool Community trust, was cut short by medical retirement. .

'I hit my head on a desk, ' he says. 'Six months after, I woke up with what seemed like a stroke.

'I've seen the health service as a patient and a manager. I survived three reorganisations and many of my family still work there.'