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Tony Banks, Baron Stratford
Tony Banks, Baron Stratford

Anthony Louis Banks, Baron Stratford (8 April 1942[1] – 8 January 2006) was a British Labour Party politician who was a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2005 and subsequently a Member of the House of Lords. In government, he served as Minister for Sport from 1997 to 1999. He was well known in the House of Commons for his acid tongue.[2]

Career


Banks was born at Jubilee Maternity Hospital, Belfast, the only son and elder child of Albert Herbert Banks, a sergeant in the Royal Army Service Corps, who before the Second World War had been a toolmaker, and his wife, Olive Irene (Rene), née Rusca. The family returned to England after the birth and he grew up in Brixton and Tooting. He was educated in London at St John's School, Brixton, Tenison's School in Kennington, the University of York and the London School of Economics.

Banks worked as an assistant general secretary for the Association of Broadcasting Staff union, which represented staff in the BBC and other broadcasting organisations. It later merged with other unions to form the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). For several years Banks was responsible for freelances.

In 1964 he unsuccessfully stood for the Liberal Party in the first elections to the new London Boroughs. He later joined the Labour Party, and during the 1970s and 1980s was a prominent Labour member of the Greater London Council, representing Hammersmith (1970–1977) and Tooting (1981–1986). He was chairman of the GLC from 1985 until its abolition in 1986.

Having unsuccessfully contested East Grinstead in 1970, Newcastle upon Tyne North in October 1974 and Watford in 1979, in 1983 he was elected Labour MP for Newham North West, which he represented for 14 years. He defeated his predecessor, Arthur Lewis, who had been deselected as Labour candidate. Following a 1995 boundary review, Newham North West was expanded and renamed West Ham for the 1997 election and Banks represented that seat until the 2005 election, when he stood down.

After Labour's 1997 election victory Banks was appointed a minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, responsible for sport. During this time, he called for foreign players in the English Premiership to become eligible to play for England ("can you imagine seeing Cantona and Giggs swapping the Red of Manchester for the White of England?"). He also caused consternation by suggesting the football teams of the four constituent parts of the UK merge to compete in the Olympic Games,[3] which eventually occurred for the 2012 Olympics.

Among other ministerial responsibilities were listed buildings, and he approved controversial additions including the 1930s Three Magpies pub in Birmingham[4] and numerous redundant NHS buildings.[5] He was also responsible for Grade I listing the Severn Bridge.[6]

After two years in office, he stepped down to become the Prime Minister's envoy for England's failed bid to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup. The bid failed, Germany winning the nomination. From then until the 2005 general election he remained a backbencher, though he made a failed bid to become Labour's candidate in the 2004 election for Mayor of London.

Political views


A vegetarian, Tony Banks was one of Parliament's staunchest supporters of animal rights, often speaking against fox hunting and vivisection, and he was a vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports. He was regarded as on the left of Labour, being staunchly republican, an opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and a member of the Socialist Campaign Group. His only speeches regarding the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan were to request government money and the help of the Royal Navy for the animals of the Kabul Zoo, particularly for Marjan, the elderly lion who needed air-conditioning for its rheumatism.

An example of Banks' pro-animal views surfaced, on 21 May 2004, when he proposed Early Day Motion EDM 1255 in the 2003–04 session of Parliament,[7] in response to newspaper reports revealing that MI5 had proposed using pigeons as flying bombs during World War II. The motion condemned the proposal, describing humans as "obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal", and proposed that the House "looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the Earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again". It was signed by only two other MPs, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, both left-wingers, and future Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, respectively.

Banks was also a supporter of the arts, and chaired the House of Commons Works of Art Committee, which had responsibility for historic paintings and sculptures in the Palace of Westminster.

Outspoken behaviour


Banks was known for outspoken and often colourful comments. At the 1997 Labour Party conference, he described Conservative leader William Hague as a "foetus", adding that Conservative MPs might be rethinking their views on abortion. In 1990, responding to a speech by Conservative MP Terry Dicks opposing government funding for the arts, Banks said Dicks was "living proof that a pig's bladder on a stick can get elected to Parliament". He described the obese Nicholas Soames as "a one-man food mountain". He once, speaking in the House of Commons, used the word "bullshitters". His comments were not always directed at parliamentary colleagues. Banks referred to Canadians as "dickheads" for culling seals.[8]

He also crossed his fingers when he took the oath of allegiance to the Queen during a new session of Parliament.[9] Banks was a republican and said that he was wishing himself luck in his new job as Minister for Sport.[10] During a live debate on UK teatime chat show Richard & Judy, he called for the videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to be banned, and declared that "Some videogames are worse than child pornography".

Personal life


He was married to Sally Jones. He was a keen supporter of Chelsea F.C. and regularly attended matches. Banks was a member of the British Humanist Association.

Retirement


On 23 November 2004, he announced he would not stand at the next general election and that he would retire from the House of Commons. On 26 November, in an interview with Robin Oakley on Radio 4, he said "To be honest I found it intellectually numbing, and tedious in the extreme. I most certainly won't miss the constituency work. I've got to tell you that honestly. It's 22 years of the same cases, but just the faces and the people changing. It might sound a little disparaging to say this about people's lives and their problems and we did deal with them ... but I got no satisfaction from this at all. I really didn't. And all you were was a sort of high-powered social worker and perhaps not even a good one at that. I will miss being chairman of the works of art committee . . . because I was having so much intellectual enjoyment, and indeed just straightforward fun, out of reorganising our collection, and that kept me in touch with history."

On 24 March 2005 he made his final speech in the House of Commons. A week after the General Election, on 13 May 2005, it was announced he would be created a life peer, and on 23 June 2005 the peerage was gazetted as Baron Stratford, of Stratford in the London Borough of Newham[11]

Death


On 7 January 2006, he was reported to have collapsed two days earlier, after suffering a major stroke while having lunch on Sanibel Island in Florida, where he was on holiday.[12] He was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Fort Myers and died on 8 January without regaining consciousness. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, described him as "one of the most charismatic politicians in Britain, a true man of the people."[13]

Following her husband's death, Lady Stratford vowed to continue his animal rights work, leading a campaign against the culling of seal pups in Canada.[14] She is also a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society, a charity campaigning for an end to the use of animals in circuses, zoos and exotic pet trade.[15]

In popular culture


A 1998 book The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks by Iain Dale was a compilation of Banks' quotations.

American singer-songwriter Aimee Mann became a close friend of Banks after meeting him in London the early 1990s and the song "You're With Stupid Now" on her 1995 album I'm with Stupid was inspired by their discussions of British politics.[16]

Arms


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