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January 09, 2006

JAM guest Tony Banks dies

Tony, officially known as Lord Stratford and a prominent Labour Party politician, appeared on three TV editions of Just A Minute in 1994 and 1995.

Here's how the Guardian reported the news...

Tributes paid after Tony Banks dies from brain haemorrhage

· Former sports minister dies on Florida holiday
· Blair leads praise for 'true man of the people'

Michael White, political editor

Tony Banks, the former Labour sports minister and popular parliamentary firebrand, died yesterday three days after suffering a severe brain haemorrhage during a holiday in Florida while having lunch with a friend. He was 62. Tony Blair led a flood of tributes, calling him a "true man of the people" and enthusiastic campaigner who would be sorely missed throughout the Labour movement. In fact, his friendships spread far wider.

Mr Banks was said to have been in excellent health before the stroke on Sanibel Island where he had been staying with friends. He was taken by ambulance and helicopter to the hospital trauma unit in nearby Fort Myers.

As a young leftwinger, apprenticed in the trade union movement, Mr Banks was a leading figure in the generation of politicians who stormed the Greater London Council (GLC) under the leadership of Ken Livingstone until it was abolished in a retaliatory attack by Margaret Thatcher in 1986. By then he had become MP for West Ham in 1983 and was an ally of Tony Benn, to whom he stayed loyal. But, unlike Mr Livingstone, he gradually adapted to the modernising and moderating agenda of Neil Kinnock, John Smith, and later Mr Blair, who gave him office from 1997 until he quit two years later. In 2000 he backed Frank Dobson in Mr Dobson's doomed bid to become mayor of London.

Though he unexpectedly became Lord Stratford of Stratford - my "nom de politics" he quipped - after leaving the Commons in 2005, he remained "Banksie" to many friends and colleagues in all parties who admired both his quick wit and the passion he brought to causes he loved, notably sport, culture and animal welfare.

That inevitably led him into conflict with colleagues when hunting became a protracted parliamentary battleground and Mr Blair showed a growing desire for the kind of compromise which his former sports minister deplored. But Mr Banks was the kind of politician whom opponents, including ardent pro-hunters like Nicholas Soames, found hard to dislike.

David Mellor, another Conservative friend with whom he sparred politically and joined for Chelsea football matches, said last night: "The great thing about Tony was he was a man of passion in his politics and possessed of a sharp and witty tongue. But he exuded such joie de vivre that no one could seriously take offence to his opinions. He delighted in living up to the old parliamentary convention that whatever was said in the chamber, you would be friends outside of it."

Mr Banks became a national figure and relished the notoriety achieved through a sometimes impetuously fast tongue. He was not comfortable in ministerial office and had an uneasy relationship with sports journalists who treated him more roughly, he complained, than their political counterparts did.

Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, said last night: "Tony was a man of broad reach socially, culturally and politically. He is rightly celebrated for his wit: sharp, acerbic, but never malevolent. His passion for sport in general, and Chelsea in particular, are well-known. So is his commitment to animal welfare. It is less well-known that he was an art expert of growing reputation."

Mr Blair said in a statement: "Tony Banks was one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people.

"Whether he was campaigning for the regeneration of east London, fighting for animal welfare or expressing his enthusiasm for Chelsea football club, he was someone who said what they thought and was loved by people for it." He said Mr Banks would be missed by "everyone in the Labour party".

The death of the former minister came two days after the death was announced of Rachel Squire, another trade unionist turned MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, who had been fighting a long battle against cancer. She was 51.

This is the Guardian's obituary

Tony Banks

Former sports minister who was a passionate supporter of animal rights and Chelsea FC

Julia Langdon

Tony Banks, Lord Stratford of Stratford, the former Labour sports' minister who has died aged 62, was one of the most popular and passionate politicians of his generation with a remarkable ability to communicate with people of any age, social status or political persuasion. During a career in politics which lasted more than 35 years he was constant in his commitment to the causes he espoused and unfailingly loyal to his friends.

He was the MP for Newham North West from 1983, which became West Ham under boundary changes in 1997, and retired from the House of Commons at last year's general election. Although he had urged the abolition of the House of Lords in 1977, he had grown to love parliament and accepted a seat in the Lords in order to have a platform to continue pursuing his various campaigns. He took the title - his "nom de politics" he called it - of Lord Stratford of Stratford although he would have preferred Lord Banks of the Thames. A former chairman of the Commons' works of art committee, one reason he wanted to stay at Westminster was to further his aim of making art more accessible.

Banks had the manner of a cheeky chappie, a natural wit and a fast tongue, all of which endeared him to his constituents in London's East End and to MPs. He had several close friends in the Conservative party, often unexpected ones such as the late Tory MP Ian Gow. He was, more understandably, friends with David Mellor because of their mutual attachment to Chelsea football club and although he once described Nicholas Soames as Crawley's personal food mountain, they too became friendly and this was to lead to one of the little known and more bizarre political episodes of Banks' career. Mr Soames is an adviser to the Prince of Wales and at a time when the heir to the throne was trying to reshape his public image, Banks was drafted to help with suggestions on appropriate issues Prince Charles might consider supporting. This relationship foundered, predictably, over the issue of hunting.

One of the mainsprings of Banks' personal commitments was a deep love of animals. He was a vegetarian - he said he would never eat anything which had a face or a family -and he campaigned vigorously on a wide range of causes to help animals. He was vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports and when he feared the government might block the anti-hunting legislation in the last parliament threatened to resign his seat and force a byelection on the issue. He was the proud recipient of 12 jars of honey each year from the London Bee-keepers' Association and used to keep a parrot called Chunky. When he suffered a brain haemorrhage in Florida he and his wife, Sally, were staying with his friend, Brian Davies, the founder of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Banks was born in Belfast, the son of Albert and his wife, Rene, known as Rusca. He was very close to his father, an engineering fitter who became a diplomat, and a member of the Labour party. Banks closely guarded his private life and, like many apparently outgoing extroverts, was also protective of his emotions. In an interview once in Warsaw, where his father had served as first secretary in the British embassy, he was moved almost to tears by recollections of his father and subsequently regretted the extent to which he had revealed himself.

He was brought up in Brixton, south London, from where he took the bus over the bridge to watch Chelsea and he attended St John's primary school and Archbishop Tenison's grammar school in Kennington. He went to York University and the LSE and had a further degree from the University of London. He came into politics from the trades union movement after six years (1969 to 1975) as head of research at the AUEW during Hugh Scanlon's leadership. The confrontation between the Heath government and the unions meant he had a heady time there, during which he became known as a bright, radical original thinker on the left of the Labour party.

In 1975 he became political adviser to the late Judith Hart, as minister for overseas development. In 1976 he returned to the trades unions as assistant general secretary of the Association of Broadcasting and Allied Staffs, where he remained until he became an MP in 1983.

He was elected to the Greater London council for Hammersmith in 1970 and to Lambeth council - where he was a member with John Major and Ken Livingstone - in 1971. He subsequently represented Tooting on the GLC, until it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher, and was its last chairman from 1985 to 1986. The high point for him was as chairman of the arts committee from 1981 to 1983. During the Labour party's internal troubles in the 1970s and early 1980s he became a loyal supporter of Tony Benn and shortly after first being elected to the House of Commons in 1983, when Mr Benn was defeated in Bristol, offered to stand down in his favour. He also became a confidante of John Smith. His career might have prospered more if Smith had lived. As it was, Banks was too principled to stay long anywhere.

Tony Blair made him minister of sport in 1997 but he was never very happy in that post, despite his interest in the subject. He was loyal to the prime minister, who recognised his values. Banks knew he was often too hasty in his judgments and witticisms - suggesting William Hague resembled a foetus was one that was often decried.

But he was a genuinely funny man. In a debate on organ transplants shortly after the Tory minister Cecil Parkinson had been involved in a sex scandal, he asked: "May I put in a bid for Cecil's plonker - one careful owner," and he said about himself: "Good taste was never one of my qualifications".

He volunteered his resignation from the Blair government to lead what proved to be the unsuccessful British bid to host the next football World Cup in London. The capital city was one of his passions and he claimed to be the first person to suggest it should have a directly elected mayor. At one stage he was anxious to be Labour's "stop Ken" candidate in the first round of the mayoral election, but prime ministerial prevarication prevented it. He subsequently stood for selection as the Labour candidate for the second round, before Mr Livingstone was re-admitted to party membership, but Banks was defeated by Nicky Gavron. He is survived by his wife, Sally.

Tessa Jowell writes: London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics owes a great deal to the earlier failure to bring the World Cup to Wembley. Tony Banks, first as sports minister, then as the prime minister's special representative, was the prime mover in that bid and the energy, passion and determination he put into that gruelling process hasn't been fully recognised. Although the bid failed, we learned important lessons that shaped the Olympic bid. With typical generosity Tony shared his invaluable insights and experiences with me and the rest of the Olympic bid team. He rejoiced with us at the prospect of bringing the games to the capital.

His passion for sport in general and Chelsea in particular are well known. So is his commitment to animal welfare. It is less well known that he was an art expert of growing reputation. One of his happiest periods was as chairman of arts and leisure on the old GLC, and he drew great satisfaction from his role as chair of the House of Commons Arts committee. As minister for women, I was also conscious of Tony's commitment to the advancement of women. It was typical of him that when he decided to stand down as MP for West Ham he did all he could to ensure that his successor was selected from an all-women shortlist.

· Anthony (Tony) Louis Banks, Lord Stratford of Stratford, born April 8 1943; died January 8 2006


This is how the Times reports it

Champion of the East End with wit and sharp tongue
By Tim Hall

TONY BANKS, a former Minister for Sport, died last night aged 62 after suffering a stroke while on holiday in the United States.

The former Labour MP for West Ham, latterly Lord Stratford, was having lunch on Sanibel Island in Florida last Thursday when he collapsed and went into a coma. His wife, Sally, was shopping with a friend when he collapsed.

Figures from across the political spectrum paid tribute last night to Mr Banks, whose quick wit and sharp tongue won him friends and adversaries in equal measure. Tony Blair said that he would be remembered as a man of the people, who supported animal rights with the same enthusiasm with which he supported Chelsea FC. The Prime Minister said: “Tony Banks was one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people. He was someone who said what they thought and was loved by people for it.”

David Mellor, a former Tory minister, paid tribute to his friend. “Tony was a man of passion and possessed of a sharp tongue. But he exuded such joie de vivre that no one could seriously take offence to his opinions. He delighted in living up to the old parliamentary convention that whatever was said in the chamber you would be friends outside of it.”

One of Lord Stratford’s legacies will be his succesful lobbying for a fox-hunting ban, but he will be remembered as much for his off-the-cuff sparing with other politicians.

A vicious critic of Margaret Thatcher, he once said she had “the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor”. During a Commons debate he said: “Mr Speaker, will you confirm that you actually have the power to order the fat bounder to be dragged from the Chamber.” When the Speaker intervened he went on: “Well in that case, corpulent gentleman.”

Phyllis Campbell-McRae, the director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “He devoted his life to animal welfare. He was deeply committed, articulate and inspiring to work with.”

A spokesman for the Football Association said: “Everyone at the FA was deeply saddened to learn of Tony Banks’ death. He was a true football fan.”

TONY'S RETORTS

‘Living proof that a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament’ referring to the Tory MP Terry Dicks

‘Obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal’ his description of human beings in an early day motion

‘Woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles’ referring to the Liberal Democrats

‘He’s so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying’ referring to John Major

‘Some people say Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson don’t get on. I asked Gordon about this and he said he didn’t know because he hadn’t spoken to Peter for 18 months’

‘Foetus’ referring to the then Tory leader William Hague during the 1997 Labour Party conference

This is the obituary in The Times

Tony Banks
April 8, 1943 - December 8, 2005
Colourful former Minister for Sport whose widespread popularity remained unharmed by stinging turn of phrase

TONY BANKS, an East End Labour MP for 22 years, was almost a caricature of the chirpy, cheeky Cockney portrayed in British feelgood films of a bygone age. Even colleagues who felt the rough edge of his tongue mostly regarded him as a good thing, a valuable part of the rich tapestry of House of Commons life.

He was much more than a comic extra on the British political stage, which has always operated that much better under the sharp eye of backbenchers who are witty, disrespectful of authority and never at a loss for words — torrents of words in Banks’s case. That kind of watchful eye was never needed more than under new Labour, when ministers and their teams of smooth-talking advisers often seemed set on cutting corners with the democratic process.

Banks was never a new Labour man. His interventions in the House would have been admired by members of the awkward squads in any parliamentary Labour Party at any time during the 20th century.

He believed, of course, in abolishing the House of Lords. He was not the first member of the awkward squad to accept a life peerage, for his own excellent reasons, when he himself retired from the Commons last year, taking the title of Lord Stratford after an historic section of East London that had once been part of his constituency.

The desire to be awkward marked his career. He had been arrested at least once for demonstrating outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square in the days when that was the focus of the politically correct. His name was ever to be found on Commons motions to get the troops out of Northern Ireland, to denounce some right-wing Latin-American dictator, to expose Freemasonry in the police force, to prohibit war toys, to decriminalise the smoking of cannabis or to criminalise fox hunting.

Unlike many of the anti-hunters, as it happened, he had a consistent record on animal welfare. Whales, badgers, imported parrots, the tortoises of the Galapagos islands and the merits of vegetarianism all featured in the Banks portfolio, and he advocated a “properly funded dog warden scheme paid for by the licence fees of responsible dog owners”.

His charm was that he was much less boring than most of the people who champion such causes, even if some of his searing phrases could not be quoted in polite society. He always came high up in the league tables showing which MPs are most popular with their own colleagues. He also came near the top of the tables showing the number of parliamentary questions asked by MPs. Quantity may be no guarantee of quality, but he had admirers on all sides of the House who recognised that there was usually a sound point to his many campaigns. His view on the arts and their funding earned the praise, for instance, of Lord St John of Fawsley, who described him as a real friend of the arts, “and so intelligent”. Of course, there was a socialist twist to it. The future Lord Stratford had little sympathy for the kind of opera-lovers who enjoyed subsidised seats for which they could well afford to pay the market price.

As a Londoner — although not a true Cockney because he had been born in Belfast — he had strong views on the absurdity of the peculiar way London is governed. He agitated for having a Mayor of London, and would have liked the job himself, only to see it go to Ken Livingstone. This damaged an old friendship that went back to their early days in local government together.

Back in the 1960s he had been inspired to join the Labour Party by Harold Wilson’s celebrated speech about transforming society through the “white heat of technology”. While working as a researcher with a trade union he got himself elected to the Greater London Council and then to Lambeth Borough Council.

Many of his generation of left-wing councillors came to be disillusioned by what they regarded as the timidity of the Labour leadership at Westminster and saw local politics as a means of flourishing the red flag. Much of what they did could be criticised as mere symbolism.

On the arts side, Banks was instrumental in stopping the GLC grant for the Royal Opera House: the arts budget was to be focused on “community-based” arts; pop music must loom larger, so must “ethnic” culture. At the Festival Hall, then run by the GLC, the Champagne Bar was closed as being “totally elitist” (and, as Banks pointed out, not even profitable).

The frustration of left-wing Labour councillors was aggravated when Margaret Thatcher came to power. Within a year or two, daggers were drawn between her and people like Banks at the GLC, whom she regarded as a serious threat to her ambitions to free the whole of the country from socialism. Invigorated by victory in the Falklands, she simply legislated to abolish the GLC. Banks was the last chairman of the GLC before this happened.

Meanwhile he had moved into national politics by becoming MP for Newham North West, later West Ham. His maiden speech attacked the Thatcher Government for making the GLC “some sort of South Bank equivalent of the Belgrano — to be destroyed merely to satisfy the power lust of the Prime Minister”.

Banks’s Commons rhetoric thus started in the way that it continued. Of John Major, for example: “He is so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying.” It was a style made for opposition rather than for office, but rather surprisingly Banks served for two years in the Blair Government, albeit in the rather peripheral office of Minister for Sport (a post he had previously described as “not so much a job as a sending to heaven without having to die first”).

Up until the end of his time in the Commons, Banks continued advocating all sorts of worthy projects: he believed, for example, in a national scheme of community service for young people. But he became fed up with the more fruitless tasks of an MP; of being a “personal counsellor” for his constituents. As the 2005 election approached he decided, although only in his early 60s, not to stand again.

He suffered a serious stroke while on holiday in Florida. He is survived by his wife, Sally.

Tony Banks (Lord Stratford), MP for Newham North West and West Ham 1983-2005, was born on April 8, 1943. He died last night, aged 62

This is how The Telegraph reported it

Tony Banks was a true man of the people, says Blair
By George Jones, Political Editor, and Matt Barnwell

Tony Banks, the former Labour sports minister, died last night three days after suffering a massive stroke while on holiday in the United States. He was 62.

The outspoken former MP, who became Lord Stratford when he accepted a peerage last year, was being moved to a hospice when he died.

He had collapsed during lunch on Thursday on Sanibel Island, Florida, where he and his wife Sally had been staying with friends.

He was taken to Fort Myers hospital, but doctors had warned that his condition was "bleak".

Tony Blair led the tributes to the peer last night, describing him as "one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain" and "a true man of the people".

The Prime Minister said: "Whether he was campaigning for the regeneration of East London, fighting for animal welfare or expressing his enthusiasm for Chelsea football club he was someone who said what they thought and was loved by people for it.

His friend, David Mellor, the former Conservative MP, said he was "immensely popular" and would be missed by politicians from all parties.

"I think the great thing about Tony was that he was a man of passion in his politics and possessed of a sharp and witty tongue.

"It is devastating for all of us who were deeply fond of him."

Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, said: "Underlying all that wit and humour was a very serious politician."

Mr Banks stood down as an MP at last May's general election and took the title Lord Stratford of Stratford after the area of east London where his constituency office was based.

As Labour MP for West Ham for 22 years, he became a parliamentary character, known for his readiness to speak his mind. While he started out on the far Left, he moderated his views enough to become a minister under Mr Blair.

After two years as a minister he resigned to campaign for England's unsuccessful bid to host the World Cup.

He was passionate about animal rights and was a vocal campaigner for the ban on hunting with dogs.

Lord Stratford was renowned for his sharp tongue. Here are some examples of his rudeness

• At a Labour Party conference he described then Tory leader William Hague as a "foetus".

• Another Tory MP, Terry Dicks, was dismissed as "living proof that a pig's bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament".

• During a Commons debate he accused Margaret Thatcher of having "the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor" and on another occasion he called her a "half mad old bag lady".

• The former chancellor Kenneth Clarke was dismissed as "a pot-bellied old soak".

• John Major, the former prime minister, was described as "so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying".

• He had no time for Liberal Democrats, who were "woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles".

• He denounced Canadians as "dickheads" for culling seals.

• He once suggested installing Durex machines in Westminster so that the Tories would have fewer illegitimate children.

• An ardent republican, Lord Stratford was once caught on camera crossing his fingers during the parliamentary oath of allegiance to the Queen.

• Even when he retired from the Commons last year he did not go quietly. He said he was stepping down because dealing with constituents' problems was "intellectually numbing and tedious in the extreme".

This is The Telegraph's obituary

Tony Banks

The Lord Stratford, formerly Tony Banks MP, who has died aged 62, was the controversial and outspoken Minister of Sport and Heritage in Tony Blair's first government after Labour's victory in the General Election of 1997; a fanatical football fan with a talent for publicity, he was in some ways highly qualified for the job, although as a former leading member of the "loony left" Greater London Council (GLC) under Ken Livingstone, he was no champion of New Labour.

Rebellious, hyperactive and a passionate vegetarian dedicated to the anti-hunting lobby, Banks's political image owed as much to the music hall as it did to the hard Left.

Although delighted at his ministerial appointment, he had been unable to contain his surprise. "I think my exact words were 'F*** me!'," he later revealed.

Having announced that "to be offered the Minister for Sport by the Prime Minister was rather like being offered a place in heaven without having to die first", he lost little time in promoting his favourite causes.

"I shall be playing my part in stopping hunting with hounds, hare coursing and deer hunting," he announced.

But his time in office was dominated by gaffes and minor acts of rebellion. A staunch republican, he was forced to say that he had only crossed his fingers "for luck" when he took his oath of allegiance to the Queen.

When he was a few months into the job there were calls for his resignation after he joked at the party conference in Brighton that William Hague resembled a foetus. On one occasion he suggested that darts should become an Olympic sport.

Two years after his appointment, Banks resigned his post and became the Prime Minister's envoy for England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

The bid failed and, suffering the fate of most sports ministers, he failed to achieve further promotion and returned to the back benches, where, perhaps, he was happiest.

In 2002 he made a failed bid to become Labour's candidate for London mayor, after which he devoted his energies to animal rights and the campaign to ban hunting with dogs.

At the end of 2004, shortly after achieving his goal of a ban on hunting, Banks announced that he would be standing down as MP for West Ham at the next election. He explained that his interest in constituency work had waned, and he now found it "intellectually numbing" and "tedious in the extreme".

"I went into politics to solve problems," he said, "but then you realise after 22 years that you can't bloody solve them. And it's dispiriting. The same problems come round time after time, and yes, however much you care, it's bloody tedious."

Anthony Louis Banks was born in Belfast on April 8 1943. His father, an engineering fitter and Sergeant Major in the 8th Army who later became First Secretary in the postwar Warsaw Embassy, was an active member of the Labour party and a stern disciplinarian. "You didn't cross him," Banks later recalled. "I loved him but I didn't love the beltings he used to give us."

The family returned to England and young Tony was educated at St John's Primary School, Brixton, and Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School in Kennington.

There he acquired an early reputation as a trouble-maker, and he was regularly beaten for talking back to his teachers. Relations with the school disintegrated to such an extent that he failed his exams, after which he found himself forced to work as a clerk to put himself through night school in order to gain the qualifications to get into York University, then the London School of Economics.

After a stint as a trade-union research official, his political career took off in 1970 when he became a member of GLC, eventually becoming its chairman in 1986, the year it was abolished.

He played a large part in some of its most provocative "loony" policies. In 1983 he announced that Jubilee Gardens should be re-named Peace Gardens and the same year he stopped the GLC's Royal Opera House grant.

While he can be credited with helping to double the GLC's arts budget to £20 million by 1984, there were accusations that he focused much of that money on community-based ethnic arts and pop music.

The tabloid press christened Banks "the snarling czar of culture" after he abolished the Champagne bar at the Festival Hall on the grounds that it was "totally elitist".

This came back to haunt him when he later admitted a penchant for sparkling wine, adding that "if I could afford it, I would only drink Champagne".

His relationship with Ken Livingstone, under whom he worked at the GLC, was competitive - they were often compared with each other - and ultimately foundered when Livingstone left the party.

"I think Ken has squandered his talents," Banks said of Livingstone in 1997. Five years later when Banks attempted to become Labour's candidate in the London mayoralty contest, Livingstone said that it would be a "disaster" if Banks won.

After three failed attemps, he was elected MP for Newham North West in 1983, and soon established his reputation as a rebel when he threatened to resign as London whip over the suspension of his friend Ron Brown MP.

Later he did resign as Neil Kinnock's social services spokesman rather than support a motion to send British troops to the Gulf War. He was, however, a persistent and often well-informed backbencher (during the 1983-1987 Parliament Banks asked the most questions) with a legendary reputation for abusive "lippiness".

Banks raised some eyebrows when he accepted a peerage last year, becoming Lord Stratford. But he preferred, he said, to be known as Tony Banks, calling his title a "nom de politics".

In 1998 his more outrageous bons mots were published in The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks.

It included his notorious contribution to a debate on organ transplants in 1989, in which he referred to the complicated love life of the then Secretary of State for Transport, Cecil Parkinson: "May I put in a bid for Cecil's plonker?" he quipped. "One careful owner."

One of his last parliamentary crusades was an attempt to bring about an outright ban on war games. "If you want to know where the gun culture comes from," he told The Sunday Telegraph, "start looking at the Christmas presents you're about to buy your male children. I know I'm not on to a winner here, but my God I'm going to try."

Banks was the first to admit that he was not the greatest diplomat in Westminster. "I've done as much to destroy my own self politically as anyone else. Probably more so. Being brutally frank has let me down. I should have tempered my words more. But when people ask me a question, I like to give them an answer."

He fell out with Livingstone, whom he felt had abandoned the GLC and his party, but within Westminster he had friends on both the left and the right, not least the former Tory minister David Mellor, who shared Banks's love of Chelsea Football Club.

Banks, who was vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports, was angered by accusations from pro-hunting campaigners that he did not understand the countryside ("Bloody nonsense! I feel a huge affinity with nature,") yet his rabid vegetarianism did little for his cause.

"If people wish to eat meat," he once said, "and run the risk of dying a horrible, lingering hormone-induced death after sprouting extra breasts and large amounts of hair, it is, of course, entirely up to them."

Short and slight with a dandyish appearance ("I try to look a bit smart") Banks was a fit man, although he had been treated for circulation problems after having a near-fatal motorbike accident during his youth.

He died yesterday after suffering a stroke while on holiday in Florida.

He is survived by his wife, Sally.

Thi is how the Independent saw it

Tony Banks, minister and maverick, dies aged 62 after massive stroke
By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent

With an acerbic wit and a readiness to throw comic jibes at his political opponents, Tony Banks was one of the most colourful figures in British politics.

Last night, Tony Blair led tributes to the former sports minister, who died four days after suffering a massive stroke while on holiday in the United States.

He died in hospital in Florida, four days after he collapsed while having lunch on Thursday during a trip to stay with his family on Sanibel Island, off the west coast. He was flown by helicopter to Fort Myers where doctors found that he had suffered a stroke and severe brain damage.

Last night Mr Blair said Mr Banks was "one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people".

Mr Banks, who adopted the name Lord Stratford after his home in East London when he was made a life peer last summer, was a man of one-liners who combined his ready wit with a serious passion for subjects from animal rights and football to political memorabilia and high art.

During his long political career as MP for West Ham, Mr Banks became known as one of Parliament's greatest wits. His quips, from branding William Hague a "foetus" to describing Margaret Thatcher has having "the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa-constrictor" were even immortalised in a book. He once said of John Major, "He is so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying."
But the left-winger will be best known for his pivotal role in forcing a ban on fox-hunting into law.

He was born in Belfast in 1943, but was brought up in south London. He was educated at York University and the London school of economics. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leading member of the Greater London Council, before entering the House of Commons as MP for Newham North West - later West Ham - in 1983.

For an MP seen by many as something of a maverick, the avid Chelsea fan was a surprise appointment as Minister for Sport in 1997. He eventually relinquished the job to become the Prime Minister's envoy for England's failed attempt to host the 2006 football World Cup.

On the backbenches, he was a passionate supporter of animal rights, served as vice president of the League Against Cruel Sports and tirelessly pushed for a full ban on hunting with hounds.

He chaired the Commons committee responsible for works of art, and was responsible for commissioning a statue of Margaret Thatcher to stand in the Commons. He even commissioned a replacement copy of the £150,000 marble work when it was later beheaded .

Mr Banks stood down from the Commons at the last election after representing the east London constituency of Newham North West, latterly renamed West Ham, since 1983. His decision to stand down was uncharacteristically low key but his departure spared no prisoners, as he described as his constituency case work "intellectually numbing, tedious in the extreme".

He was elevated to the House of Lords and took the title Lord Stratford as a "nom de politics", expecting always to be addressed as plain Tony Banks.

The Prime Minister said: "Whether he was campaigning for the regeneration of East London, fighting for animal welfare or expressing his enthusiasm for Chelsea Football Club, he was someone who said what he thought and was loved by people for it."

He added: "I was proud to have him as a sports minister in the first term of the Government and, like everyone in the Labour Party, will miss him and regret that he was taken from us so soon."

Mr Banks' friend, the former Conservative minister David Mellor, said: "I think the great thing about Tony was that he was a man of passion in his politics and was in possession of a sharp and witty tongue.

"But he exuded such joie de vivre that no one could seriously take offence to his opinions. He delighted in living up to the old parliamentary convention that whatever was said in the chamber you would be friends outside of it.

"These days in the Commons, that's been forgotten but Tony never forgot that."

Banks on ...
MARGARET THATCHER "She is happier getting in and out of tanks than in and out of museums or theatre seats."
JOHN MAJOR "He is so unpopular, if he became a funeral director people would stop dying."
WILLIAM HAGUE "To make matters worse, they have elected a foetus as party leader ... I bet there's a lot of Tory MPs that wish they hadn't voted against abortion now."
PETER HITCHENS [After refusing to appear with him on the BBC's Question Time] "[He] is an objectionable lout ... and a bar-room bully."
BEING APPOINTED AS MINISTER FOR SPORT IN 1997 "I'm completely gobsmacked. It's a bit like going to heaven without having to die first."
CRUELTY TO ANIMALS "I just hope that I am around when that asteroid crashes into the earth and wipes out all life forms, as happened 65 million years ago."
DEALING WITH CONSTITUENTS "Intellectually numbing and tedious in the extreme."
THE INDISCRETIONS OF DAVID MELLOR "Since the great days of Jimmy Greaves, it's the only time that anyone's managed to score five times in a Chelsea shirt."

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