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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]

The Lord Stratford
Tony Banks, Baron Stratford.jpg
Minister for Sport
In office
2 May 1997 – 20 October 1999
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byIain Sproat
Succeeded byKate Hoey
Member of Parliament
for West Ham
In office
2 May 1997 – 4 May 2005
Preceded byConstituency Established
Succeeded byLyn Brown
Member of Parliament
for Newham North West
In office
9 June 1983 – 1 May 1997
Preceded byArthur Lewis
Succeeded byConstituency Abolished
Personal details
Anthony Louis Banks

(1942-04-08)8 April 1942
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Died8 January 2006(2006-01-08) (aged 63)
Fort Myers, Florida, US
Political partyLabour
Alma materUniversity of York
London School of Economics

Career before politicsEdit

Banks was born at the 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. He failed his O-levels at Grammar School, and left school to work as a clerk for a few years, but studied at night school to gain the necessary qualifications for university. Banks studied politics at the University of York from 1964, where he was president of the student representative council and graduated with an upper second class degree in 1967, then undertook further study at the London School of Economics.

Banks's first career was as a trade union official, first for the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers from 1969 to 1975, then as assistant general secretary of the Association of Broadcasting Staff from 1976 to 1983. It later merged with other unions to form the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU). For several years Banks was responsible for freelances.

Political careerEdit

In 1964 he unsuccessfully stood for the Liberal Party in the first elections to the new London Boroughs. He later joined the Labour Party. He was a member of Lambeth council from 1971 to 1974 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.

In parliament Banks was friends with people of all political persuasions, including Tory MPs Ian Gow and David Mellor.

Ministerial postEdit

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 viewsEdit

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 the Second World War. 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 behaviourEdit

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".[citation needed]

Personal lifeEdit

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.


On 23 November 2004, Banks announced he would not stand at the next general election and that he would retire from the House of Commons. Three days later, in an interview with Robin Oakley on BBC 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."[citation needed]

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]


On 7 January 2006, he was reported to have collapsed two days earlier, after suffering a massive 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]

His funeral was held on 21 January at the City of London crematorium. John Prescott, Tessa Jowell, Margaret Beckett, Alastair Campbell, Tony Benn, Chris Smith and Richard Cabourn attended. Banks's friend David Mellor gave an address paying tribute.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16]

In popular cultureEdit

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

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.[17]


Coat of arms of Tony Banks, Baron Stratford
Coronet of a Baron
A Fox sejant Gules supporting with the dexter forepaw a Crozier Or
Or three Chevronels each terminating in three finials bottony Gules and each limb ensigned by a Pigeon volant outwards Sable
On either side a Badger sejant erect proper armed and grasping in the interior forefoot a Hammer Or
The red chevronels on a gold field are taken from the Arms of the Borough of Newham. To these have been added three finials bottony suggesting a Saxon crown which features in the Arms of the Greater London Council. The chevronels can also be taken as an allusion to the London roofline and are accompanied by diving London pigeons. The Armorial Bearings of Newham also feature a crozier which has been combined with a fox in the Crest, Lord Stratford had a particular interest in Charles James Fox, the eighteenth century politician.


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography profile
  2. ^ BBC report on "wit and wisdom of Tony Banks", BBC News, 8 January 2006
  3. ^ Great Britain United, BBC News, 9 August 2000
  4. ^ Listed Buildings, Guardian Unlimited gallery
  5. ^ NHS hospital buildings now listed – Banks Department for Culture, Media and Sport press release, Distributed by PR Newswire, 14 November 1997
  6. ^ Severn Bridge and Aust Viaduct English Heritage Images of England, shows bridge was Grade I listed on 29 May 1998 during Banks's term in office
  7. ^ Early Day Motion 1255, Parliamentary Information Management Services
  8. ^ "The wit and wisdom of Tony Banks",, 8 January 2006.
  9. ^ MPs new and old prepare to be sworn in,; accessed 18 May 2015.
  10. ^ Tony Banks Swears The Oath by Alex Selwyn-Holmes
  11. ^ "No. 57687". The London Gazette. 28 June 2005. p. 8379.
  12. ^ 'No hope of recovery' for Banks, BBC News, 8 January 2006
  13. ^ Tributes paid to ex-MP Tony Banks, BBC News, 9 January 2006
  14. ^
  15. ^ Canada Defends Seal Cull While World Calls for a Trade Boycott Archived 22 July 2006 at the Wayback Machine, The Independent, 19 March 2006; reproduced online by Common Dreams Newscenter
  16. ^ "Spotlight on CAPS' Patrons". Captive Animals' Protection Society. Archived from the original on 20 November 2010.
  17. ^ How we met; Aimee Mann and Tony Banks, The Independent, 5 May 1996

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Arthur Lewis
Member of Parliament for Newham North West
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for West Ham
Succeeded by
Lyn Brown
Political offices
Preceded by
Iain Sproat
Minister for Sport
Succeeded by
Kate Hoey
Civic offices
Preceded by
Illtyd Harrington
Chair of the Greater London Council
Succeeded by
Council abolished