ANOTHER week, another classic example of the Prime Minister upstaging his humble Health Secretary.

It's not that Tony doesn't trust Alan. It's just that Mr Blair can't resist hogging the limelight when it comes to announcing zillions of extra cash for the NHS.

So Monday morning's fanfare of £160m to fight another winter of flu-ridden patients piled five-high on trolleys was unveiled in the glittering surroundings of Number 10 and not Mr Milburn's Department of Health base across the road.

But here's a little piece of consolation for our Alan. Just wait until if - or when - you have to explain to the nation why the NHS has completely collapsed.

Then you'll have it all to yourself - with the Prime Minister nowhere to be seen.

STILL, Mr Milburn got his own back - partially. Emerging from Monday morning's press conference in Downing Street, the Darlington MP spotted Mr Blair getting ready for a photograph next to an ambulance crew.

Alan didn't have the faintest idea what was going on, but politicians like Mr Milburn haven't got where they are today by not sticking their smiling faces in front of the nearest available lens.

So it was that an Avon Ambulance campaign all about persuading people to make their house numbers clearer - hence the Number 10 location - got both the Prime Minister and Health Secretary in their promotional photograph.

As Mr Milburn strode off, he was politely asked by a West Country newspaper reporter to comment on the campaign. For obvious reasons, I understand the Health Secretary's quotes were rather vague.

ON Sunday, our Alan was doing the Dimbleby programme on ITV as a humble prequel to the Monday morning announcement.

Viewers were treated to a generally smooth, unruffled performance from the Darlington MP in the Newcastle studio.

He wasn't even put off when a crop of North-East Tories, including Euro-candidate Aidan Ruff, hogged the audience questions.

But where, oh where, did he get that prehistoric-looking suit?

It looked like a greeny tweed jacket which cost a year's wages when grandfather Milburn bought it to celebrate the relief of Mafeking or some such.

In fact, the suit is new in the Secretary of State's wardrobe this year.

But Darren Murphy, his special advisor and general dogsbody, confessed that it had come off second-best at this year's Labour conference in Brighton when Alan was caught in the South Coast equivalent of the perfect storm.

I remember it well. I was on the seafront at the time. I nearly ended up in Calais.

WORD is leaking out that last week's talk of Hilary Armstrong heading for the Cabinet was not quite what it seemed.

The Durham North-West MP and Regions Minister was being talked up as the boss of a new government department on social inclusion.

But whispers were this week emerging at Westminster that Ms Armstrong's name was simply used to get the press familiar with the idea of the new government department.

And the new Social Inclusion Secretary would actually be the Prince of Intrigue himself - Hartlepool MP Peter Mandelson.

So Hilary may simply have been a "stalking horse" for a cunning Blair plan to return Peter from his Northern Ireland exile.

NOT all politicians are thick-skinned. Lawrie Quinn told me this as he emerged from the Westminster branch of Boots, armed with skin cream.

The Scarborough and Whitby MP has worn his poor little nose out blowing his way through a heavy cold. news/westminster.htm