People's Politician Dies

By Phil Simms

Labour fire-brand Tony Banks has died, aged 62, after collapsing on holiday in America. The former left-wing MP for West Ham, London, was at lunch with his wife Sally on Sanibel Island, Florida, when he collapsed.

He suffered a massive stroke causing a colossal brain haemorrhage. Banks was flown by helicopter to Fort Myers hospital where doctors announced that he was "effectively brain-dead".

The news that life-long Chelsea football club fan "Banksy" had died was greeted with shock by politicians and sports fans alike. Britain had lost one of its best-known and best-loved politicians. Banks was famous for his outspoken views when he served as an MP. He once described the aristocratic members of the unelected House of Lords as the bastard children of royalty. Yet he was respected by politicians of all political parties. His popularity with the public gave him a 'man of the people' image.

Belfast-born Banks started his political career as a fiery Socialist. He entered the House of Commons in 1983. By 1990, Labour leader Tony Blair had promoted him to the post of opposition spokesman for pensions. He went on to become transport and then environment spokesman before landing his dream job of Sports Minister in Blair's government.

In 1999, Banks quit front-line politics to run England's unsuccessful bid to host the 2006 football World Cup. He was made a life-peer in 2005, becoming Lord Banks of Stratford (the place in east London where he lived and which he represented in parliament) after stepping down as an MP.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone paid tribute to his former Greater London Council (GLC) colleague and GLC chairman, even though Banks had fallen out with him in recent years. Livingstone said: "This is a terrible shock and everybody's thoughts are with Tony's family at this time".

Banks denounced Livingstone’s maverick megalomania as mayor which had alienated many former allies including the late Black MP Bernie Grant. A passionate animal rights campaigner and vegetarian, Banks was married to Sally, 59, a social worker. The couple never had children; instead they devoted much of their time and energy to campaigning for animal rights, most notably against the barbaric blood sport of fox hunting. Banks scored a major parliamentary victory when it was banned in March, 2005.

He was vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports, whose chairman John Cooper paid tribute to Banks by saying that he was "not just a figurehead for millions of animal rights supporters across Britain, but a determined street fighter in the corridors of Westminster".

Tony Banks was a man who brought colour, laughter and a canny wisdom to public life. He had a withering wit but was also very serious in his convictions; a truly great politician, whose forthright voice will be sorely missed.

Phil Simms