AN ASTONISHING Labour storm has erupted after one of the party's veteran MPs attacked Tony Blair's Government with such venom he branded his party's agenda "Thatcherism with a human face".
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain was quick to retaliate - accusing out- going Blaenau Gwent MP Llew Smith of giving succour to the Tories ahead of the forthcoming election with his withering assault.
And it prompted an immediate invitation to join Plaid Cymru, billing itself as "the Socialist party of Wales".
Mr Smith, writing in the Western Mail yesterday, blasted the Prime Minister for creating a Labour Party so "in tune" with Conservative policy it amounted to "dumping so many Socialist principles".
Mr Hain, who has warned Labour not to be complacent about its chances of securing an historic third term, snapped back, "His stance can only encourage the Tories at the coming election."
He added, "Even if their MP doesn't, people living in Blaenau Gwent know full well the difference between this Labour Government and the years they suffered under Thatcherism.
"Is unemployment down 40% in Blaenau Gwent Thatcherism? Is it Thatcherite to lift children out of poverty by paying nearly 9,000 families in Blaenau Gwent Labour's tax credits and record child benefit?"
Mr Hain, MP for Neath, also cited £28m of Objective One aid for the constituency and £34m in compensation to sick former miners as evidence of "traditional Labour policies".
He added the policies had been made possible "because we have secured the election of a Labour Government by attracting support from all sections of the country".
Mr Smith rounded on a party he believes is increasingly in step with the Conservatives, by introducing top-up fees for university students, house arrest for terror suspects and privatisation of public services.
He said, "This Government hasn't even the courage or good political sense to tax those earning over £100,000 at a modest 50% rate.
"So inequality is safe in New Labour's hands."
Adam Price, Plaid Cymru's economics spokesman, said Mr Smith's dissection of the failures of Labour signified a sense of a missed opportunity felt by Labour's left after eight years in office.
He added, "I know a lot of people in the Labour Party in Wales who are absolutely aghast at what is being done in the party's name.
"People are particularly angry that when Labour were elected in 1997 they had a historic opportunity to shift the whole terms of political debate over to the left, in the same way as in 1945.
"People have come to realise that opportunity has been squandered, and whilst policies like the minimum wage are minor moves in the right direction, Blair has not taken the chance to shift politics, society and culture.
"When the political pendulum swings back to the right, there is not really that much for the party to undo.
"This is a blistering attack on New Labour that even we would have been hard pushed to come up with. If I did not know Llew better, I would send him a Plaid Cymru membership card."
Bill Wiggin, Shadow Welsh Secretary, bristled at the thought of Mr Blair being likened to Baroness Thatcher.
"There is nothing Thatch-erite about Labour," he insisted.
"The people will remember the Iron Lady who stood up for council house owners' right to own their own home, who fought against the bullying of the European Union, and who led Britain against the Argentine invasion of the Falklands.
"There is no comparison at all to Tony Blair, the poodle."
And Mr Wiggin added that more divided modern Conservatives and New Labour than united them, nowhere more so than the issue of trust.
He said, "Llew Smith has every right to be heartbroken - so does every Socialist who believed that things could only get better and if Labour win a third term, things will get a great deal worse.
"Everybody apart from Labour knows that you cannot spend faster than you earn, and the day of reckoning is fast approaching. Under Labour, there will be third-term tax increases."