FIRST Minister Rhodri Morgan's "clear red water" policy agenda could prove a disastrous mistake, a leading Welsh Labour MP claims today.
Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda, argues that Mr Morgan should adopt more of the "choice" agenda in health and education favoured for England by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Mr Morgan has already dismissed this as "amoral" in the Welsh context and has developed a separate policy agenda. But Mr Bryant, pictured, warns that this can lead to seeing "distinctiveness as its own reward".
Mr Bryant's remarks will be seen as a sign of a further division between Welsh Labour MPs and Labour AMs, although he insists he is a passionate devolutionist and would like to see closer co-operation between the two groups.
Relationships between the two camps have improved over the past 18 months, particularly after it became clear the forthcoming Government of Wales Bill would not lead to a decrease in the number of Welsh MPs.
But Mr Bryant's claim that MPs need a "greater sense of ownership" of the Assembly Government is unlikely to go down well in Cardiff Bay.
Sources there say Mr Morgan's agenda, with its focus on universal delivery, is proving popular with the public.
In a pamphlet for think-tank the Smith Institute published today, Mr Bryant argues that some flagship Assembly Government policies, such as free prescriptions, the avoidance of tuition fees for Welsh-domiciled students and the rejection of PFI to increase NHS capacity, betray an ideology that "could be dangerously naive".
Patients in the NHS are already being driven into the private sector, he says, and are "far from reluctant" to shop around for services in the way Mr Blair advocates.
Mr Blair has made pushing through the choice agenda in public services a key part of his third term in office, and Mr Bryant says Welsh Labour should be more ready to "scavenge around" for policies.
He writes, "I would contend that we in Welsh Labour should not be divisible into Assembly and Westminster. We shall only be able to deliver a better, more prosperous, fairer Wales as a united team of MPs and AMs - and that means that Welsh Labour MPs need to have a far greater sense of ownership of their Welsh Assembly Government."
Mr Morgan has successfully introduced health promotion as a key plank of policy, he adds, but the logic of this should be to extend choice in healthcare. "If we are trying to help people make healthy choices day by day, why not allow them to make choices in the provision of healthcare?
"Neither the NHS nor any other public service can truly serve the public unless it is constantly refocused towards the public. The belief that because we are a relatively small country our public services do not suffer from the dangers of monopoly, institutional conservatism or excessive size could be dangerously naive."
In a criticism of the perceived closeness between Assembly ministers and those running public services, he says that "a political cosiness that refuses adequately to challenge vested interests within public services may fail to deliver properly progressive public services."
Mr Bryant told the Western Mail last night, "We [MPs and AMs] need to debate policies far more, we need to debate the direction we simply need to meet together more often."
He said he hoped his views would "start a debate" and that Mr Morgan had been given an advance copy of his pamphlet.
A Welsh Cabinet spokeswoman said, "I'm sure this pamphlet will provide a very interesting read."