Tony Banks close to death after stroke

Doctors describe former sports minister's condition as 'bleak' after he collapses while on holiday in Florida
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Indy Politics

Tony Banks, the former Labour sports minister, was reported to be close to death last night after suffering a massive stroke while holidaying in the US.

The 62-year-old, who became Lord Stratford last year, collapsed over lunch on Thursday and was rushed to a hospital in Fort Myers, Florida. Doctors there have said the outlook for the former Labour MP is "bleak". His friend and fellow Chelsea supporter David Mellor said he was "to all intents and purposes brain dead, clinically dead".

The former Tory MP, who has spoken to the peer's wife, Sally, paid tribute to his "very dear friend". He told Sky News: "One of the things about Tony is although he was over 60 you would never know it. He was an enormously fit man."

Lord Stratford, the former MP for West Ham, and his wife had been staying with friends on Sanibel Island, in Florida. A helicopter transported him to hospital in the nearby town of Fort Myers, where medics discovered he had suffered a colossal brain haemorrhage.

Lord Pendry, a former Labour shadow minister for sport and close friend, said: "The sporting world will be hoping the worst does not happen because he was a breath of fresh air and knew more about football then any other parliamentarian.

"I wish him and Sally, his wife, every sympathy. Tony should have been speaking in a debate on Wednesday on the Olympic Bill. He obviously will not be there to do that but I'm sure a lot of people will make reference to his absence."

Born in April 1943, Lord Stratford was regarded as a genuine parliamentary character with a "man of the people" image and a sharp sense of humour. He often made more of an impression on his constituents and the wider public than on his parliamentary colleagues.

An avid supporter of Chelsea FC, he raised eyebrows by taking the title Lord Stratford when he was made a working peer last summer. But during his time as an MP his office was based in Stratford, east London, and he also lives in the area. Describing his title as a "nom de politics", the peer said at the time that he still expected to be generally known as Tony Banks.

Although his politics were far left, the former GLC member moderated his views enough to become a minister under Tony Blair. Soon after his election in 1983 he resigned his seat so that Tony Benn could re-enter Parliament to stand for Labour leader. In 1997, he was made sports minister but was never fully comfortable in government.

At that autumn's Labour Party conference, the London School of Economics graduate caused offence by comparing the then Tory leader, William Hague, to a foetus. Other memorable quotations inspired a collection called The Wit and Wisdom of Tony Banks.

After just two years as a minister, he resigned to campaign for England's unsuccessful World Cup bid. He fought for selection as Labour's candidate for the 2003 London mayoral election, but was defeated by Nicky Gavron.

One of his most passionate causes was animal welfare, and the vegetarian peer made an outspoken contribution to the debate on the Hunting Bill. Lord Stratford retired from the Commons at the general election in May last year.

AS HE SAID...

"All the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor"

on Margaret Thatcher

"I have gone to a safe house, so I might as well have a different name"

on entering the House of Lords as Lord Stratford

"Living proof that a pig's bladder on the end of a stick can be elected to Parliament"

on right-wing Conservative MP Terry Dicks

"We'll look back and wonder who were these barbarous people, just like we look back at those who supported bull-baiting"

on fox-hunting

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