POLITICS

I should admit right away that I was a 3 May man. More to the point, Alan Milburn was an advocate for 7 June, one of a minority of Cabinet members urging Tony Blair to delay the election until the government could show voters it had a better - that is the cautious word - grip on foot and mouth.

I am not sure which of us will be proved right. But for the record, the health secretary's thinking was roughly thus: he started out favouring 3 May, but as the crisis deepened decided Mr Blair must demonstrate a grip and a willingness to 'put country before party'.

It was an instinct to which the Tories laid a stronger claim until the late 1980s, when their indifference to suffering manufacturing regions helped undermine their credibility, Mr Milburn feels.

On a practical note, Mr Blair's One Nation instinct would help end the belief that Labour is urban and the Tories the rural party - and make it harder for William Hague to campaign over the next 10 weeks for an election he asked to have postponed 'in the national interest'.

All right, I know There is been a lot of bluff and double-bluff in politics-speak these past few days. But legislative consequences flow as well as purely political ones. For instance, the Health and Social Care Bill, whose course HSJ has been plotting, looks likely to get through its remaining stages in the Lords after all.

When I spoke to MPs and officials a week ago, the assumption was that the Tories would be bloodyminded about all bills and that Lib Dem peers would play hardball for more concessions over community health councils. Ministers would have conceded their right to survive in principle - and a few places - in order to save the provision of personal care (only) in nursing homes - as from October.

Many other big bills, notably the 'yobs' bill (fixed-penalty fines, curfews etc), may die even with an extra month's grace, though wrong-footed ministers will also have to cobble up statements and initiatives, extra money for cancer, even, to give an impression of dynamism.

That also goes for two measures of passing interest to us here. Labour MP Tony Clarke (Northampton South) introduced a private member's bill to allow the names of the deceased fathers to be registered on birth certificates in cases where artificial fertilisation has taken place after death, as in the Diane Blood case.

That seems an anomaly worth sorting out (even rightwing bill-blocker Eric Forth thought so), though Mrs White agrees with me that sentimental talk of 'children's rights' really disguises something else - the reluctance of a grieving mother to move on with her life.

What price a child's 'right' to know their father?

Much more important was a more serious stab at children's rights in the shape of the first adoption bill since 1976. It was steered through second reading, awash with crossparty consensus and goodwill, by our own John Hutton with promise of a special select committee process to take further expert evidence from all the myriad special interests with a finger in the adoption pie.

Like Mr Clarke's bill it will have to start again in the new parliament. But There is a tale behind it.

The idea, you may recall, is a more humane, efficient and faster system for placing more of the 58,000 kids who are in care into proper adoption, rates of which are 10 per cent in some areas, 1 per cent elsewhere. The sustained abuse unearthed in homes in North Wales (the bill to set up a commissioner there will get through) is sufficient incentive.

I recall telling HSJ readers that Tony Blair was keen because his dad was adopted. My Tory friends put a different gloss on it.Ministers had dithered (it is complex) and the bill was not in the Queen's Speech. They were only pushed into action when Caroline Spelman, the junior Tory health spokesperson, produced her own private bill after failing to amend the Care Standards Bill. 'You can almost spot the point halfway through the government bill when they just rushed to finish it and publish it, ' says one senior Tory MP.

Hence the concession of a special committee to refine it as it goes along. Hence last week's doomed second reading.Ms Spelman's bill duly surfaced on Friday - and was duly voted down. It is a rough old world.