The father of a stillborn baby has attacked Labour for its “disgusting” claim that mothers and babies will die if the Tories win the Copeland by-election.
Will Quince, Tory MP for Colchester, Essex, was left “angry and sad in equal measure” by a Labour leaflet pushed through letterboxes in the Cumbria seat.
The future of maternity services at West Cumberland hospital is one of the hot topics of the election, and Labour is centering its campaign around the NHS as it seeks to defend its 2,564 majority.
Quince’s baby son Robert was stillborn in 2014, and since entering Parliament a year later the Tory MP has focused on tackling the causes of baby loss and improving care for bereaved parents.
The MP even helped establish a cross-party group on baby loss in order to remove the issue from normal political posturing, but Labour’s campaign in Copeland has angered him.
Writing exclusively for The Huffington Post UK, Quince said: “In every political party there are, sadly, campaigns that are run which some find unpleasant or hard to stomach. I include various carried out by my own party in this list.
“However, the past week or so in Copeland has seen a Labour campaign that has made me angry and sad in equal measure.
“To see a mainstream political party - a party I respected - run a campaign quoting from unnamed midwifes saying ‘mothers will die, babies will die, babies will be brain damaged’ is simply disgusting.”
He added: “I have no issue whatsoever with political parties campaigning on the NHS.
“Further, I consider it entirely acceptable for the Labour party to campaign on maternity issues. In many respects I welcome it as we need to talk more openly about baby loss and the causes.
“However, my issue is how we as political parties frame and hold the debate; how we as mainstream political parties choose to campaign, the language we use, our tone and the messaging. To say that Labour has concerns about maternity safety is one thing.
“To put on a leaflet or a poster that ‘mothers will die, babies will die, babies will be brain damaged’ is another - it is scaremongering seeking nothing more than to stoke fear.
“In my view this kind of disgraceful campaigning has no place in mainstream politics. It sends out a dangerous message to the parents and families of the circa 5000 babies that are stillborn or die neo-natally annually in the UK that they are a political football.”
Campaigners claim the proposed changes to the constituency’s hospital will mean pregnant mothers and other patients being forced to travel 40 miles to the nearest specialist care units in Carlisle.
As well as the leaflet, Labour took out a front-page advert in the local paper describing the by-election as a “matter of life or death.”
Quince said: “Don’t get me wrong, I fully expect dirty, misleading and unpleasant campaigns from fringe parties like the Liberal Democrats and UKIP, but not the Labour Party.
“Whatever happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s kinder gentler politics? I fear if this continues, we will see the end of the Labour Party as a mainstream political party and it become a party which trades in unfounded fear and Trumpian scaremongering.
“I hope I am wrong. As a bereaved parent I want to know what political parties are going to do to protect maternity services and ensure as few people as possible go through the tragic loss my wife and I experienced.
“What I don’t want is desperate, fear-stoking campaigns for party political expediency. On the basis of this campaign alone, Labour deserves to lose in Copeland.”
A senior Labour source defended the leaflet after the Huff Post UK published Quince’s blog.
They said: “There’s no doubt that the threat to downgrade or close A&E and maternity services in West Cumberland Hospital are a threat to people’s lives.
“Jeremy [Corbyn] has himself said that people could die as a result of that and that’s clearly the case and that’s what medical staff in the hospital have said themselves.”
Prime Minster Theresa May visited Copeland last week – a sign the Tories are growing in confidence that they could win the seat from Labour for the first time since the 1930s.
However, she was accused of trying to “airbrush” the NHS crisis out of the by-election after refusing four times to say if she opposed planned cuts to the local hospital.