“It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now.”
Back in the 1970’s, when I was working at the British Leyland Longbridge plant, I began to feel strange. At first, my fingers, hands and feet began to feel weak and uncoordinated. Gradually it got worse, and I started falling over. For some time my GP didn’t take this very seriously (he understood that I normally only required his services for the purposes of sick note-provision), but I eventually persuaded him to send me to hospital. At the hospital, I overheard a doctor saying to a colleague, “I bet it’s Guillain–Barré syndrome” – and that was the first time I’d ever heard of the condition.
It was explained to me that it is a disorder affecting the nervous system, usually triggered by an infection, and that there is no treatment: it simply has to run its course. The hospital doctors assured me that I’d make a full recovery eventually, and so I did (as far as I’ve ever been able to judge), but it took about six months. What the doctors didn’t tell me (thank goodness) was that not everyone does, in fact, make a full recovery: some patients are left with severe motor and sensory damage and in rare cases it can be fatal. I only found this out years later when another victim, the Catch-22 author Joseph Heller appeared on Desert Island Discs and talked about it.
For several years after my experience, I never met, or heard of, anyone else who’d had the condition, until in 1981 Tony Benn had to interrupt his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party due to a mystery ailment that turned out to be … Guillain–Barré syndrome.
I remember thinking at the time that Benn must have had a much milder version of it than mine, as he was only out of action for a few weeks. But still, I liked to boast to my friends that with both myself and Benn as victims, it was clear that Guillain–Barré syndrome was a ruling class plot against their most dangerous enemies.
Now it seems that my old suspicions are shared by none other than Mr George Galloway, who writes in an exceptionally perceptive obituary of Tony Benn (over at the appropriately-named Socialist Unity blog):
“At the height of his campaign when he seemed to be about to carry all before him, Benn was struck down by an obscure illness The Guillain – Barre Syndrome which attacked his nervous system, confined him to bed, and left him shaky on his legs for the rest of his life. It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now. Especially after what happened to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders in Latin America.”
That sound pretty conclusive to me – especially when in the below-the-line comments at Socialist Unity, the blog’s proprietor and Labour PPS for Chippenham, Mr Andy Newman, reveals that he too was once struck down by the “obscure illness”!
Disappointingly, Comrade Newman down-plays the conspiracy angle: “Dunno, people just get ill, and I imagine that it was a stressful as well as exhilarating time for him, and his body was susceptible to illness . I had a rare variant (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy /CIDP) of Guillain–Barré syndrome myself, it does happen.”
Well, Comrade Newman may not see the obvious when it stares him in the face, but I do: Benn, Castro, Chavez, Newman himself – not to mention yours truly: it’s clearly a plot. Thank goodness the ever-vigilant and clear-sighted Comrade Galloway is on hand to cast light into the darkness, and expose yet another CIA/ Mossad conspiracy!