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.
Since winning Colchester in 2015 I have spent much of my time in Parliament focussing on baby loss. My own son, Robert, was stillborn at Colchester General Hospital in October 2014 so I know only too well how devastating losing a baby is. After a debate on maternity bereavement care I initiated in autumn 2015, I along with other MPs set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss. The purpose of the group is twofold: to look at and address the causes of baby loss and ensure that the UK has world class support and care for bereaved parents. Importantly, the group is cross party and most members have had their own personal experiences of baby loss. As a result, we share a mutual desire to address the many issues in this area.
Latest NHS leaflet in Copeland. pic.twitter.com/00w2vcbYtY-- Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) February 14, 2017
The sad reality is that successive governments of all political colours have failed to properly get to grips with stillbirth and neo-natal death. It is only now, in part due to pressure from the All Party Parliamentary Group and charities, that we are seeing targets, funding and action in this area.
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.
Midwives have said that proposals to cut our hospital service are dangerous. Vote Labour this Thursday pic.twitter.com/pgR7Wx7PRo-- Labour Copeland (@LabourCopeland) February 20, 2017
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.
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.