Friday, 20 October 2017
Tom Watson is reported to be on hunger strike to express solidarity with prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. But maybe he's secretly hoping to just to shed a few pounds before Christmas, or get back to his beach body weight? I wonder if he recognises that doing something from which he may directly benefit is hardly a sacrifice. I wonder also if he has fully thought it through. It’s one thing for somebody under extreme stress to be capable of denying themselves sustenance, but for somebody living a comfortable life and obviously fond of pudding this might prove an impossible challenge.
What if nobody notices? Or worse, what if he openly flaunts this fast but gorges himself nightly like a muslim in ramadan? If the weight doesn’t fall off him in an appallingly unhealthy manner questions will be asked in the house. On the other hand it may start a trend; who wouldn’t like to see John Prescott or Eric Pickles stepping away from the pies? Of course, Tom Watson may be made of sterner stuff and he isn’t the only parliamentarian to have tried this.
The British Isles' most famous hunger-striker and one who carried right through to the end was Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh, better known as Bobby Sands, who led the 1981 protest in the infamous Maze prison. The strike was in protest against the removal of Special Category Status for IRA political prisoners, treating them merely as criminals. During this period he was elected to the British Parliament as an Anti H-Block candidate. His subsequent death in prison was a clarion call to the faithful and caused a spike in both recruitment to the cause and renewed terrorist activity. Be careful what you wish for, Tom.
Actually, 1981 wasn’t the first time for Bobby Sands. While he was in prison in Long Kesh in the early 1970s he tried to do something similar. During his three years under lock and key he announced his decision to go on hunger strike, alone this first time, to protest against his treatment. But this attempt only lasted a few days before he broke the fast. As everybody expects Tom Watson to buckle early, perhaps this is the model he intends to follow, rather than the ten-in-the-Maze example.
Tom - no more pies - Watson, on hunger strike yesterday
Records have now been released from that period, including the testimony of the guard who persuaded Sands to give up on his mission. It seems they had become close – as far as prisoner and jailer can become – and many conversations were had while he was refusing to eat. He was recently interviewed for a Panorama programme about the period and directly asked about how he had managed to get Sands to give up. “Well in the end it was quite easy,” Said the prison guard, “actually, it was a piece of cake.”