Labour Conference: Tired Banks scores a further own-goal as calls to qu it multiply

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The Independent Online
Tony Banks, the sports minister, scored yet another own-goal yesterday, with an interview in which he spoke of colleagues looking `like shit'. The exhausted minister says he needs a break.

Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, thinks that could be arranged.

The Prime Minister has agreed that Tony Banks, sports minister, could be allowed to continue in his job in spite of his "tasteless" quip about abortion, with the Tory leader William Hague as the foetus.

A leadership source told The Independent on Wednesday night that Mr Banks had been handed a "yellow card" warning; one more chance after a series of embarrassing gaffes. But in an unfortunate piece of timing, Men's Health magazine yesterday published an interview that had taken place on 17 July, in which he said that some Commons colleagues looked like "a sort of pile of old doos", complained about the unreasonable demands of "whingeing" MPs, and said his 17-hour days left him very, very tired, and in need of a break.

With Mr Blair said to be planning a snap reshuffle of ministers before the Christmas recess, Mr Banks could find he gets his wish. The word at Brighton, from ministers as well as backbench Labour MPs, is that Mr Banks had been treading on too many toes and putting too many backs up with his blunt manner.

However, last night he said that there was no question of him resigning from the Government. "Absolutely not," he told a Sky News reporter in Bratislava. Visiting the Slovakian capital to watch Chelsea in a European Cup Winners' Cup tie, he said it was hardly surprising that some critics, including Tory MPs, were demanding his resignation. "They can join the list," he said.

In the magazine interview, he said: "I'll be honest with you, I'll level with you, I'm feeling very, very tired, you know, not tired enough to jack it in, but very tired, you know, I could do with a break. I know I feel very much better if I'm getting some decent sleep ... and some good exercise," he said. "I've actually found it's more difficult to do this in the eight weeks since I've been minister than before and things are beginning to slip rather badly now."

Nevertheless, he took consolation from the appearance of some Commons colleagues, saying: "I look at my colleagues about my age and think, `My God, I look better than them' because they probably look like shit anyway."

Mr Banks acknowledged that he would never look like some young male cover model. But he added: "At least if I am aspiring to look like that, I might at least look a little bit more like that than, you know, a sort of pile of old doos, as it were, that you see some of your male colleagues look like."

He also accused some MPs of making unreasonable demands and "whingeing". "Every single day there's someone who says to me I wrote to you but I haven't got a reply yet," Mr Banks said. "Well, get in line, there's thousands of people writing. You try to prioritise ... People really feel that the only thing you are waiting for was their letter. They get very stroppy when they don't receive a reply. I just think that people like that are either sad, selfish or both."

Qualified support for Mr Banks came from Clare Short - who has also been prone to deliver embarrassing remarks-- who told BBC's Radio 5 Live that the foetus comment was "a horrible, dreadful joke". However, she added: "Tony is very, very funny and 19 jokes out of 20 work."

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