Published: 10/10/2002, Volume II2, No.5826 Page 20 21

If prime minister Tony Blair is looking for a new anthem to replace Things Can Only Get Better, he might consider the old Stealers Wheel classic Stuck In The Middle With You .

There he stands, trying to make sense of it all, Gordon to the left of him and Alan to the right while the row over foundation hospitals rumbles on, fuelled by a widely rumoured personality clash between the two.

The power pendulum swung back and forth all week, with the media heckling from the sidelines.

While the chancellor is unwilling to relinquish hold over the public purse strings to allow a few hospitals to be given financial independence, the health secretary is equally keen to make it known that greater freedom is essential if foundation hospitals are to fly.

Thus The Times ' claims that Mr Milburn 'couldn't have delivered a more emphatic repudiation of Aneurin Bevan's [misquoted] assertion that 'not a single bedpan should fall on a hospital floor without the clatter being heard in Whitehall''.

The Sunday Times speculated that Monday's away-day for the the chancellor and the health secretary - ordered by Mr Blair - would be an opportunity to go head-to-head over foundation hospitals.

But Mr Brown is not an easily vanquished foe.

The Observer 's front-page lead cobbled together various dusty research findings and off-the-record comments to speculate on the potential closure of up to 60 local hospitals.

'Ministers have been warned that creating the 'super-hospitals'... would lead them to expand quickly - poaching services and patients from neighbouring NHS centres and forcing them to close.'

This story ran on the back of a further Treasury tip, indicating that the chancellor, not Mr Milburn, was in the driving seat of health service reform.

The Financial Times interpreted this row as exposing a fault line in the philosophy of New Labour.

If the tension between Mr Brown and the health secretary is not resolved hastily, Mr Blair might soon be caught whistling Who's Sorry Now? .