Page last updated at 08:01 GMT, Monday, 9 January 2006

Obituary: Tony Banks

Tony Banks MP
As an MP, Tony Banks was known for his forthright views

Tony Banks was a parliamentary character who has made more impact on the general public than most of his colleagues, with his "man of the people" image.

The former sports minister - who became Lord Stratford when he was made a working peer in summer 2005 - was an MP from 1983 until he stood down at the general election in June that year.

He was born in Belfast in 1943 and educated at schools in south London, and then York University and the London School of Economics.

Like many on the Labour benches, he made a long political journey from the far left, beginning his political life in the 1970s as a prominent Labour councillor on the Greater London Council.

Soon after becoming an MP, he offered to resign his Newham North West (now West Ham) seat in east London so that Tony Benn could re-enter Parliament to stand as Labour's leader.

By 1997 the avid Chelsea fan had moderated his views sufficiently to be offered the role of sports minister by Tony Blair.

I'm going to leave the House of Commons with overdrafts in all my bank accounts, with hardly any savings
Tony Banks

But he was never fully comfortable in government, and at that autumn's Labour party conference he caused offence by comparing then Tory leader William Hague to a foetus.

In 1999, Mr Banks resigned his ministerial post to concentrate on the unsuccessful bid to host the 2006 World Cup at Wembley.

The vegetarian MP continued to pursue his passion for animal welfare from the backbenches, making an outspoken contribution to the Hunting Bill debate.

Mr Banks put himself forward to challenge Mr Livingstone as Labour's candidate for the 2004 London Mayoral election, but was defeated by Nicky Gavron.

'Gravy-train existence'

After he resigned in May, Mr Banks said he had realised it was time to leave Westminster when his constituency work became tedious.

"It's 22 years of the same cases, but just the faces and the people changing.

"I found it intellectually numbing, tedious in the extreme.

"All you were was a sort of high-powered social worker and perhaps not even a good one. So I won't miss that," he said.

But Mr Banks said he would miss his role as chairman of the Works of Art Committee, which looks after historic paintings and sculptures in Westminster.

It was "straightforward fun" that gave him "intellectual enjoyment".

A politician who was prepared to stand up, say what he believed regardless of what the implications were
Stuart Fowler, Ashbourne

Upset by media reports suggesting MPs were enjoying a gravy-train existence, he said: "I'm going to leave the House of Commons with overdrafts in all my bank accounts, with hardly any savings.

"Now, I'm not complaining about that because I represent an area where people are very poor, but... that was a personal thing that really upset me."

He caused surprise by taking the title Lord Stratford when made a working peer in summer 2005.

But he called it a "nom de politics", saying he still expected to be largely known as Tony Banks.

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