YORK UNIVERSITY graduate and former Government Minister, Tony Banks died earlier this month at the age of 62, whilst on holiday in America. The former Labour Member of Parliament for West Ham, later Lord Stratford, collapsed due to a stroke during lunch on Sanibel Island, Florida on the 5th of January 2006 and died three days later.
The popular MP, who was briefly Sports Minister, has been mourned by colleagues across the political spectrum, including the Prime Minister and former Conservative MP David Mellor; a close friend and fellow avid Chelsea fan.
Anthony Louis Banks was born in Belfast in 1943, and started his political career early. He was amongst the first intake of students to study at York and graduated in 1967 with a 2:1. His time at York was not that of an average student. The former politics student climbed the campus political ladder, first by becoming Langwith J.C.R.C. chair and then Student Council President in 1965.
Whilst S.C.R President, Banks had good relations with the founding Vice-Chancellor, Lord James of Rusholme. They disagreed on one point – Lord James boasted that his wife, an Oxford graduate, still darned his socks. Banks took offence at this, becoming one of the first MPs to campaign for women’s rights upon entering Parliament.
Aside from arguing with the Vice-Chancellor as S.C.R. President, Banks ensured the survival and independence of Nouse,.which had been established in 1964, but by 1966 was suffering financial problems without any University or Student Council funding. President Banks agreed to provide Nouse with an annual grant as well as guaranteeing no S.C.R. interference with the paper, except financial control.
This ascent to the heights of student political power was not mirrored by his career in national politics. Tam Dalyell, veteran Labour MP and Banks’ close friend said of him: “he wanted to do something in politics, rather than to be someone”.
After starting his career as a trade union researcher, Banks entered electoral politics when he became a member of the Greater London Council in 1970, three years after graduating from York. Then, after initially struggling to win a seat, the former student politician became a Labour MP for Newham North West and then later West Ham. He remained an MP for 20 years until unexpectedly accepting a working peerage as Lord Stratford in 2005. Yet he called his title a “nom de politics” and still expected to be known as Tony Banks.
Starting out on the far Left of the Labour party, Banks had moderated his views enough to be made Sports Minister in 1997. As an avid Chelsea fan, he saw the job as a place in “heaven”.
However, Banks was never fully comfortable with front bench politics and often got himself into difficulties. He once described the then leader of the Conservatives, William Hague, as “a foetus”, dismissed the Liberal Democrats as “woolly-hatted, muesli-eating, Tory lick-spittles” and called the Canadians “dick-heads” for culling baby seals. Banks resigned as Sports Minister in 1999 to concentrate on the unsuccessful bid for the 2006 football world cup.
Once out of Government, the vegetarian Banks was able to campaign for improved animal welfare from the backbenches. He became Vice-President of The League Against Cruel Sports and spoke frequently for the Anti-hunting Bill.
Tony Banks is survived by his wife, Sally, who has initiated a campaign in his honour to halt the culling of seals in Canada.