Change begins now

on 05 July 2024

In the last of his election blogs, RCM Public Affairs Advisor Stuart Bonar sets out how the College will be holding the new Government to account – and making sure there is positive change in maternity services.

Last night delivered an amazing, historic election result. Labour won over 400 seats in the House of Commons, and now has a commanding three-figure majority. We saw former Prime Minister Liz Truss defeated in South West Norfolk, several Cabinet ministers given their marching orders by the voters, and many formerly safe Conservative seats elect MPs from other parties for the first time since the days of Queen Victoria. 

So, whatever else the next four or five years holds, we now have a Labour Government with a rock-solid Commons majority. With that strong mandate, the new Prime Minister should be able to implement pretty much what he pleases. 

Additionally, the House of Lords does not, by convention, block policies that appeared in the winning party’s manifesto. So, let’s remind ourselves of the most relevant bits of the Labour manifesto for RCM members. 

Here is perhaps the key section, from page 98: “Childbirth should not be something women fear or look back on with trauma. Labour will ensure that trusts failing on maternity care are robustly supported into rapid improvement. We will train thousands more midwives as part of the NHS Workforce Plan and set an explicit target to close the Black and Asian maternal mortality gap.” 

There is quite a lot in that, and their commitment to “thousands more midwives” and to closing the appalling maternal mortality gap that hits Black and Asian women, are specifically things the RCM called on the parties to commit to during the election campaign. 

The RCM also asked parties to commit to fixing the crumbling NHS estate, which often affects maternity units most of all. On page 96, the Labour manifesto states: “It is also clear that NHS estates are in a state of disrepair after years of neglect. Labour is therefore committed to delivering the New Hospitals Programme.” 

Importantly, Labour has committed itself in its manifesto (page 45) to start the process, within the first 100 days, of repealing those recent anti-union laws that the RCM and other unions campaigned against. The package is expected to include a lot more changes to improve working conditions too. This meets our call for better, fairer working rules and practices. 

There is a lot in what the Labour Party has committed to that is in alignment with what the RCM wants to see. We want to work with the new Government to deliver on those promises – more midwives, local maternity services supported to improve, thousands more midwives, ending the maternal mortality gap for Black and Asian women, NHS buildings that work, and better, fairer laws and protections for RCM members and other working people. 

Indeed, we have already sent a letter to the new Secretary of State, Wes Streeting, detailing these areas of common interest. We were so quick to do this, in fact, that it was almost certainly with his ministerial office before he’d got to sit at his desk for the first time. But there is no time to waste; as he himself told a newspaper in recent days, “I don’t feel that on maternity services we have a lot of time on our side.” 

During the campaign, the RCM reached out to parliamentary candidates from across the country and across the political spectrum. We’ve had messages of support from dozens of them, and many of them were elected last night. We will be speaking and meeting with them as well as old friends from the last Parliament who were also safely returned. 

Westminster usually quietens down as summer approaches, but this year that will not be true for them or for us. The new Government and all those new MPs will want to hit the ground running. And later in the year, in the autumn, we will be at the party conferences too, continuing to inform MPs about how we fix our maternity services. This is both a marathon and a sprint. 

And RCM members can help. Shortly, we will be sharing with you information and advice about how to reach out to MPs. Many of them are new and will want to hear from those, like you, on the NHS frontline. Your voice is powerful. Individual members – midwives, student midwives, MSWs – as well as branches and student midwife societies have an influential role to play. We have a new Parliament and a new Government, with many new MPs; this is the perfect time to make contact. 

The results we are looking at today are truly historic. The new Government has a huge mandate, and it has committed to bring forward many things that the RCM supports. We will work over this Parliament to ensure that those things happen.