Leading Article: Token gesture for a worthy cause

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The Independent Online
ANYONE compiling a short history of pointless gestures might consider giving space to the 24-hour 'hunger' strike upon which the Labour MP Keith Vaz embarked yesterday afternoon. His gesture was one of solidarity with the thousands of Hindus protesting in London yesterday against the closure of a temple in Hertfordshire donated to the Hare Krishna movement by the former Beatle, George Harrison. The local council's decision was prompted by complaints from local inhabitants that thousands of worshippers were causing disruption by blocking roads in the vicinity at weekends.

As it happens, Mr Vaz is a Roman Catholic; but his rather grand family had its origins on the Indian subcontinent, and there are many Hindus in his Leicester East constituency. No one need question the sincerity of his gesture of solidarity. Yet a hunger strike of 24 hours is surely a contradiction in terms. The pangs of privation are not going to be very acute after forgoing one dinner and breakfast - and during Lent at that.

Mr Vaz's comfortable plumpness suggests he has reserves that would last him a good deal longer without serious depletion. Were he bent on real sacrifice, he could do worse than extend his fast, and invite a few of his chubbier fellow legislators to share it. These might include Robert Key, the Transport minister; John Bowis, a portly Health minister; and David Lightbown, Government whip. Nicholas Soames, the minister for Food, should perhaps be excluded, since his bulk is indissolubly associated with his portfolio.

Everyone will have their own view of what constitutes a futile gesture. There was the case of the Japanese rail workers who went on strike between 5.15am and 5.30am; and, arguably, that of the Notts miners' leader who last year barricaded himself in his mine to protest against its closure. A riskier gesture was that of Jeffrey Gill who, in 1986, attempted to windsurf from the north Devon coast to Lundy Island to raise pounds 1,000 for the Bude coastguard. The rescue operation cost just double that. High on the scale of pointlessness was the random kicking of dachshunds said to have marked the outbreak of the First World War. Mr Vaz's lightning hunger strike is thus in an honourable tradition, though he perhaps erred by not restricting it to 12 hours.