Government reshuffle: Banks to lead World Cup squad

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The Independent Online
TONY BANKS (right), the wittiest member of Tony Blair's Government, is leaving his ministerial team to become a "special envoy" for England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.

Mr Banks, 54, was a surprise and colourful appointment as Sport minister in 1997. Some saw the move as inspired, others warned that his capacity to make gaffes would embarrass the Government. The critics claimed they had been vindicated when he described William Hague as a foetus at a Labour Party conference fringe meeting nearly two years ago.

But overall the Chelsea supporter was seen as a success. His unstuffy demeanour attracted him to the figureheads of sport around the world and his knowledge, particularly of football and athletics, is unrivalled. In recent weeks, however, he has clashed with Chris Smith, his boss as Secretary for State for Culture, Media and Sport, over whether Manchester United should play in next season's FA Cup.

Mr Banks, who formed a powerful double act with Sir Bobby Charlton to head the World Cup bid, will still represent the Government in his new role but some colleagues will see his resignation as a sign that he may join Glenda Jackson in the race to become Labour's candidate for Mayor of London.

He is a former chairman of the Greater London Council, but would want Downing Street's backing before running against his old ally Ken Livingstone.

Since he was elected an MP in 1987, Mr Banks earned a reputation for using spectacular language in the House of Commons. More than once he has been rebuked for overstepping the mark.