Funny old thing, coincidence. Barely had this column yoked Paul Boateng's name with that of Alun Michael in the 'Michael Stone' policy debate last week than fate linked them via Ron Davies's ill-fated stroll on Clapham Common. Minister B took minister M's job at the Home Office when he moved up to fill ex-minister D's shoes in Wales.

An interesting promotion. Boateng is one of those old Greater London Council lefties like Tony Banks, who made the transition into the Blairite era in a way that Ken Livingstone, ever the oppositionist, didn't. It helped that he was both a lawyer and a lay preacher with a solid family life, I expect. But let's hear it for the man. Like the chap who was asked what he did in the French Revolution, Boateng can say, 'I survived'.

In a glib sense (hey, this is journalism) one can say the same thing about John Hutton, who has inherited Mr Boateng's files at the Department of Health. He's a nice man, though not the extrovert that sharp-suited Boateng was.

Anyway, Mr Hutton is 43, another lawyer (yet another lawyer), more precisely a law lecturer at the old Newcastle Poly, now the University of Northumbria, where Unison's Rodney Bickerstaffe, among others, was educated. He is married to Rosemary ('beautiful Rosemary', according to Andrew Roth's infallible guide to MPs) and they have three teenage children, having lost their first to spina bifida in 1980.

Though he was Margaret Beckett's unpaid parliamentary private secretary, Mr Hutton, MP for Barrow-in-Furness since 1992, is not a leftwinger either. He's a soft-spoken ('introvert' is one description) London-born pragmatist. Oxford-educated, he was tough enough to tell CND to stop its annual march through Barrow because Cumbria needs jobs and high-wage skills, including those which build Britain's nuclear submarine fleet.

What the area needs is to convert from defence to other high-tech industries, he argues. Attacking a Tribune article by Mike Craven, which urged cancellation of the fourth Trident boat, Mr Hutton memorably called it 'a cocktail of empty rhetoric, mixed up with juvenile posturing, combined with a total absence of up-to-date analysis of the British defence industry, international realities and electoral arithmetic'.

That sounds like Blair-ish talk, though Mr Craven is currently Labour's acting director of information before resuming his career as a lobbyist. How times change. The sensible Mr Hutton joins the DoH at a busy moment. Like the government at large, it has got through a mountain of policy- formation.

'We didn't have a lot when we came in,' you now find some of them admitting. Indeed. There's a passage in John Kampfner's new biography of Robin Cook, a minister-in-trouble who has proved more resilient than Ron Davies, where our hero gets an offer, c1991, from Gordon Best of the King's Fund to help 'make your policies more specific'.

'Whatever for?' replies Cook. By all means develop some ideas for after the election. 'But I don't want policies that are too specific.' At that point, reports Kampfner, 'he rummaged inside his top drawer and threw a folder on his desk containing a printout. 'This is the latest focus group, giving us an 87 per cent rating on health. When it starts going down I'll start thinking about a new policy,' Labour's then health spokesman explained.

A year later Labour faced the rubble of defeat amid controversy over the Jennifer's Ear TV election broadcast. Cook later claimed not to have seen it before it was shown. Not devising policies then was tempting - smart even -but it has meant that Dobbo's team has had to work all the harder since moving into Richmond House.

They've done it. They're going to get the primary care group bill in the Queen's Speech, plus that bill to put pharmaceutical pricing on a statutory footing to curb dodgy forms of price abuse. The Dobsonians are now on the implementation stage, and it's a hard slog in which (they realise) some things will come unstuck - alongside the inevitable Ron Davies-isms which make up the extended banana skin that is government.

But public health and mental health are on the DoH front-burner in the weeks ahead. 'It's all Tessa and Paul now,' said a helpful colleague two weeks ago. Make that Tessa and John. But Paul Boateng gets to inherit the 'Michael Stone' cases in his new job.