Andy Burnham, a frontrunner for the Labour leadership, has faced criticism for his voting record on LGBT rights. Photo: Getty Images
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McKeever: Burnham supports LGBT rights and has the experience to win

Andy Burnham's record on LGBT issues has come under scrutiny - but, says former Labour candidate Kevin McKeever, he has no case to answer: and the experience to win, too. 

Let’s clear something up: Andy Burnham is a lifelong supporter of LGBT rights and that’s why, as an openly gay Labour activist and Parliamentary candidate, I’m proud to support his campaign for the party’s leadership.

Five years ago, he was one of the first frontbench politicians to call for equal marriage. He has never absented himself from a vote on LGBT issues and missed a single vote on adoption in 2002 only by being at the birth of his daughter.

In Government, he voted in favour of IVF for lesbian couples while supporting an amendment on the need to name biological parents. Recently, Andy has said "Modern families come in all shapes and sizes, and no one should sit in judgement of any family. What matters is that children are loved and secure, and grow up to be confident and happy adults. I've met children with a single parent, children with many step-parents and those with two mums or two dads, who are some the most loved and happy children I've known."

Last month, I stood for election for Labour in Northampton South. That crushing feeling we all experienced in the early hours of May 8 will stay with me forever. It was an emotional reminder of what happens when we engage in a collective deception that we are at one with the electorate.

In my seat, we always faced a tough task. It’s a sad demonstration of the scale of our loss that we were the only Tory-held marginal seat in the East Midlands to experience a swing from Conservative to Labour, but nowhere near enough to win.

We had lost an emotional connection with many of our traditional voters, who turned to Ukip for answers to the questions we refused to credibly answer and failed to resonate with those middle income families, critical to electoral success, who decided to stick with the Tories.

I have a deep respect for all the leadership candidates and I genuinely hope the coming weeks will see a comradely contest that strengthens the ultimate victor. But politics is about tough choices. That’s why after careful consideration I’m backing Andy Burnham to be Labour’s next leader. He has the experience and strength of character to unite our great party and lead us to victory in 2020.

Andy will take politics out of the Westminster bubble and into the country - speaking to voters we lost to Ukip as much as those critical voters in English marginals like Northampton South who opted to vote Conservative last month.

Kevin McKeever was Labour's candidate in Northampton South. 

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David had taken the same tablets for years. Why the sudden side effects?

Long-term medication keeps changing its appearance – round white tablets one month, red ovals the next, with different packaging to boot.

David had been getting bouts of faintness and dizziness for the past week. He said it was exactly like the turns he used to get before he’d had his pacemaker inserted. A malfunctioning pacemaker didn’t sound too good, so I told him I’d pop in at lunchtime.

Everything was in good order. He was recovering from a nasty cough, though, so I wondered aloud if, at the age of 82, he might just be feeling weak from having fought that off. I suggested he let me know if things didn’t settle.

I imagined he would give it a week or two, but the following day there was another visit request. Apparently he’d had a further turn that morning. The carer hadn’t liked the look of him so she’d rung the surgery.

Once again, he was back to normal by the time I got there. I quizzed him further. The symptoms came on when he got up from the sofa, or if bending down for something, suggesting his blood pressure might be falling with the change in posture. I checked the medication listed in his notes: eight different drugs, at least two of which could cause that problem. But David had been taking the same tablets for years; why would he suddenly develop side effects now?

I thought I’d better establish if his blood pressure was dropping. I got him to stand, and measured it repeatedly over a period of several minutes. Not a hint of a fall. And nor did he now feel in the slightest bit unwell. I was stumped. David’s wife had been watching proceedings from her armchair. “Mind you,” she said, “it only happens mid-morning.”

The specific timing made me pause. I asked to see his tablets. David passed me a carrier bag of boxes. I went through them methodically, cross-referencing each one to his notes.

“Well, there’s your trouble,” I said, holding out a couple of the packets. One was emblazoned with the name “Diffundox”, the other “Prosurin”. “They’re actually the same thing.”

Every medication has two names, a brand name and a generic one – both Diffundox and Prosurin are brand names of a medication known generically as tamsulosin, which improves weak urinary flow in men with enlarged prostates. Doctors are encouraged to prescribe generically in almost all circumstances – if I put “tamsulosin” on a prescription, the pharmacist can supply the best value generic available at that time, but if I specify a brand name they’re obliged to dispense that particular one irrespective of cost.

Generic prescribing is good for the NHS drug budget, but it can be horribly confusing for patients. Long-term medication keeps changing its appearance – round white tablets one month, red ovals the next, with different packaging to boot. And while the box always has the generic name on it somewhere, it’s much less prominent than the brand name. With so many patients on multiple medications, all of which are subject to chopping and changing between generics, it’s no wonder mix-ups occur. Couple that with doctors forever stopping and starting drugs and adjusting doses, and you start to get some inkling of quite how much potential there is for error.

I said to David that, at some point the previous week, two different brands of tamsulosin must have found their way into his bag. They looked for all the world like different medications to him, with the result that he was inadvertently taking a double dose every morning. The postural drops in his blood pressure were making him distinctly unwell, but were wearing off after a few hours.

Even though I tried to explain things clearly, David looked baffled that I, an apparently sane and rational being, seemed to be suggesting that two self-evidently different tablets were somehow the same. The arcane world of drug pricing and generic substitution was clearly not something he had much interest in exploring. So, I pocketed one of the aberrant packets of pills, returned the rest, and told him he would feel much better the next day. I’m glad to say he did. 

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game