They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but don't believe it. By coincidence I had just finished reading Wilkie Collins' great Victorian thriller, The Woman in White, when I flicked open Saturday's Telegraph to learn that 'Care in community is scrapped: Dobson pledges more secure units for mentally ill patients who pose danger'.

As Collins fans (and those who saw the TV version) know, the question of whether or not the fragile and eponymous Anne Catherick is kept in a secure unit, then known as an asylum, or remains at large in the community, is a crucial part of the novel's plot.

An important part of Fleet Street's current plot is the battle for Saturday sales between the Telegraph and Rupert Murdoch's cut-price Times, so I did not assume Frank Dobson was necessarily revealing new policy, even though his friend, Tony, likes his ministers to be nice to the Tory papers.

The Daily Mail seized the yarn between editions and re-made its front page. Blow me, if on Monday it didn't happen again. Much to his surprise, Dobbo led the Telegraph a second time. His personal views on the desirability of easier early abortions were elevated into an official campaign to promote a backbench bill. It is a passionate issue to some Telegraph readers, including the editor.

In truth, Dobbo wasn't saying much we don't already know on either score. As he explained on the Today programme, the Cabinet has no collective view on abortion; it's a matter of conscience, and his conscience is not Anne Widdecombe's. There's no campaign, no plot.

As for mental health and what Dobbo - MP for several of London's railway stations - gently called 'people who are extremely vulnerable and, in some cases, a threat', there's not much change there, either.

Junior health minister Paul Boateng is still busy reviewing closures and consolidations of the old 'water tower' mental hospitals, the kind of asylum Anne Catherick would have been in if Sir Percival Glyde hadn't gone private.

Yes, I am assured, the 'Jonathan Zito problem' - killings by mentally ill people who should be under supervision - will shortly become part of a formal review of the Mental Health Act.

It looks likely to lead to the creation of more halfway houses where 24-hour outreach supervision, assessment, even treatment, can be strengthened. It's often a matter of making sure folk, no more than 4,000-5,000 nationwide, take their tablets, isn't it? But that has nothing to do with the forthcoming Mental Incapacity Bill, which is designed to implement Law Commission proposals on living wills, consent and sectioning - if Lord 'Cardinal' Irvine can find a gap in November's Queen's Speech.

I'm not sure that Downing Street or Dobbo will be delighted to have got so much publicity, though it is certainly better than the Robin Cook and Gordon Brown sagas. That said, it should be noted for non-Telegraph readers that the accompanying profile did him proud as a deeply romantic closet highbrow with passions for good food, music and the English language.

What neither Dobbo nor the Telegraph seems to have realised is that the portrait of Cromwell he has kept on his office wall was left there by Stephen Dorrell. The Great Oliver is a hero to both of them.

Make what you will of that. One last point: Sunday's Observer, which is also fighting off Murdochry, caused a flutter in Whitehall dovecotes by reporting that Tessa Jowell's imminent green paper, Son of Health of the Nation, is watering down Mrs Bottomley's targets. Not so, comes an outraged cry.

Tory targets went from 1990 to 2000; Labour's will run to 2010 and concentrate on social groups and geographical areas where progress is hardest - that is, the poor. Middle-class types quickly cotton on to healthier habits, diet and exercise. Tory targets are duly met.

But there is 'a law of diminishing returns', Tessa tells her colleagues. The hard core is what they must tackle now. Very Dobsonian.