When I rang him he said the NHS has 'gone full circle' since Labour came in and abolished the internal market in 1997

It was quite a busy morning. I heard Gordon Brown on the merits of consensus, likening himself to Margaret Thatcher as a conviction politician. Half a mile away, treading more quietly along a similar path for Conservative leader David Cameron, was Stephen Dorrell, John Major's last health secretary.

The prime minister has taken some stick for poaching top Tories to chair reviews for Labour. He is such a gut tribalist, they reason, that his words amount to mere cynicism. 'Fair point, but keep an open mind,' is my advice.

I can't imagine anyone trying to poach a level-headed moderate like Mr Dorrell, let alone accuse him of cynicism. When I caught up with him this week he said his own search for consensus had made him run his new review of public services through search software to make sure it did not include certain divisive words.

A protege of former Cabinet minister Lord (Peter) Walker, young Stephen was burdened by Lord Walker's prediction that he was a future PM, which I never thought likely: he is just not that pushy. As
a result, from his election as MP for Charnwood, Leicester, in 1979; it took until 1994 to reach cabinet, where he hung a portrait of Oliver Cromwell (no Tory!) on his wall.

Mr Dorrell was Ken Clarke's understrapper at health during Ken's internal market reforms in 1990. It was enough to make him co-chair of Mr Cameron's review, along with the formidable educationist Baroness Pauline Perry.

At the review launch, one of a series which included this week's on Tory green policies, I was struck by Mr Dorrell's wholesome tone.

'Successive governments for 30 years have systematically undermined a professional sense of ownership' of schools, hospitals etc. Politicians should show more humility. Informed local decision-making works best.

Equal access is crucial to the NHS and David Cameron is committed to it, he assured us.

And he made an impassioned plea for a strengthened chief medical officer with 'the same status as a permanent secretary, respected by the professions' and providing a focus on delivery and public health. He wants education to have an equivalent post.

Mr Dorrell is always thoughtful. Thirty years ago the professions were 'not sufficiently challenged or accountable'. Without the purchaser/provider split or choice, ministers inserted themselves and their targets - 30 years of micro-management by politicians as 'proxy consumers', he confessed.

When I rang him he said the NHS has 'gone full circle' since Labour came in and abolished the internal market in 1997.

'At last we now have a consensus.' Hence the respectful prominence given in the review to Sir Derek Wanless's report on NHS funding and the need for 'full engagement' of patients in self-care. Unhealthy habits are an 'abuse' of NHS funds which could be spent on other people, voters must be told.

Hence too the word search: Mr Dorrell wanted to be sure that neither 'choice' nor 'internal market' featured in the review.

'I'm more interested in moving it forward by consensus than in the politics,' he explained.

Yet he ventures on delicate ground: 'The core activity of the NHS should be the commissioning of healthcare on behalf of the patient, not its provision.'

Commissioning is the NHS's core weakness; hence the review's ambitious 'new partnership' recommendations to 're-engage' the disaffected professions in a more adult way - create more trust but also better data to judge local outcomes. There should even be 'resource allocation' courses for medical students: get them talking to managers. The professions are keen to be wooed.

Primary care trusts will continue to commission, but from a wider range of providers, mostly public still, but also private and voluntary. Perhaps there should be regional tariffs - 'more flexible' - he muses. Paying people to negotiate internal prices 'is always a silly thing to do'.

Mr Dorrell recalls a King's Fund breakfast in 2006 where Paul Corrigan, Tony Blair's NHS capo, proclaimed a 'new consensus' around commissioning. Sadly, Mr Dorrell intervened to say he had heard that before - in 1990.