Published: 16/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5805 Page 35

Bouffants are infinitely fascinating - as regular readers of this column will know only too well. Monitor's own stylish 'do' has been subject to the humiliating whims of fashion over the years - hippie, punk, Baroness Thatcher. Hopes for a return to the glory days of the Bobby Charlton grow ever dimmer. So it was with a little envy, then, that while flicking through the pages of this esteemed organ the other night in a misguided attempt to find some TV listings, Monitor stumbled across a rather attractive picture of Unison head honcho Dave Prentis.

In better times, your traditional union man would look upon shampoo as part of the wider capitalist conspiracy. Arthur Scargill's own soap-and-go Brillo pad stood defiant as the Yorkshire miners against the relentless tide of history. In fact, in those days a significant number of old-school unionists didn't bother with hair at all. So what's Dave doing as a Tony Blair lookalike (see left)?

Westminster watchers have already noticed the similarities between Big Al's speech patterns and ya know...err...the PM, ya know. Experts have even uncovered the emergence of the same vocal inflexions in low-ranking beasts like Department of Stealth junior minister John Hutton. All Monitor is saying is that such imitation behaviours are know to be of evolutionary benefit.

Remember Saddam's government during the Gulf War? Lots of blokes sporting bushy tashes looking remarkably similar to the Scud-loving mass murderer.

They knew too well that imitation was the sincerest form of life insurance. Or Bin Laden's retro-beard? Shockingly popular among his minions despite all the dayto-day grooming problems which come with big-time facial hair. So is it really a surprise that since Dave stepped out as Tony, the NHS has witnessed the kind of cash windfall not seen outside a chief executive's remuneration committee?

If managers - and I stress both male and female - really want to hitch a ride on the new NHS gravy train, my advice is to follow Dave and 'do a Tony' - basically a back-brushed, blow-dried, middle-aged man's idea of a decent hair cut That is not quite covering the bald spots. And just be grateful William Hague never made it.