Dennis Skinner: Wikis


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Dennis Skinner 

In office
13 June 1988 – 27 October 1989
Leader Neil Kinnock
Preceded by Neil Kinnock
Succeeded by Jo Richardson

Member of Parliament
for Bolsover
Assumed office 
18 June 1970
Preceded by Harold Neal
Majority 18,437 (47.6%)

Born 11 February 1932 (1932-02-11) (age 77)
Clay Cross, Derbyshire
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Mary Parker
Alma mater Ruskin College

Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for Bolsover since 1970; he is nicknamed 'the Beast of Bolsover', because of his rebellious and curmudgeonly reputation.

He was chairman of the Labour Party from 1988 to 1989, and has sat on the National Executive Committee in most years since 1978. He identifies with the Left of his party, is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and was once described by the "Bagehot" opinion column in the The Economist as a "hard-left oddball".[1]


Early life

Born in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, Skinner's politics have been influenced by his background. The Bolsover area was formerly dominated by coal mining, and Skinner began his working life as a miner, although he won a place at Tupton Grammar School (now called Tupton Hall School) when he was 11. He was a miner from 1949 to 1970, first at Parkhouse Colliery in Clay Cross until 1962 when it closed, and then at Glapwell Colliery near Chesterfield. He joined the Labour Party in 1956.

He later attended Ruskin College, Oxford in 1967 after doing a preparatory course run by the NUM at the University of Sheffield. He was a councillor on Derbyshire County Council from 1964 to 1970, and a Clay Cross councillor from 1960 to 1970. He became leader of the Derbyshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers between 1966 and 1970.

Member of Parliament

He is one of few members whose politics remain very strongly class-based. During the years when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, he persistently argued that the Labour Party should fight for the working-class as strongly as he thought the Conservatives were fighting for the middle-class. He was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its then leader, Arthur Scargill, in the year-long miners' strike of 1984-85. Later, Skinner and Scargill diverged when the latter was involved with forming the Socialist Labour Party. In November 1990, after Thatcher had announced her resignation and while she was defending the government against a motion of no confidence, veteran Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (MP) Alan Beith (then Treasury Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats) asked a question about the European Central Bank, and Skinner quipped "No, she's going to be the Governor".

He often tells the (possibly apocryphal) anecdote of turning up for work at his colliery after he had been elected as an MP, refusing to see this as his new occupation. This is why Skinner refuses to miss any sitting in the House of Commons, saying that "if you missed a shift at the pit, you would get the sack". He also refuses to adopt the pairing system in which he can pair with a Conservative MP and if one misses a vote, he will abstain, saying he won't cover for them whilst they "go swanning off to Ascot or to their boardrooms". In the 2004-2005 sitting of the House he claimed the least expenses for an MP who served the full year.[2] He has never been a member of an All-Party Parliamentary Group; does not eat alongside parliamentary colleagues in the Commons dining room; does not take trips or vacations 'paid for' by others; never drinks in the Commons Bar; and stays in the House of Commons during the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, as he advocates outright abolition of the House of Lords.

He frequently takes a liberal stance regarding social issues. Skinner voted in favour of equalization of the age of consent, civil partnerships, adoption rights for same-sex couples, and to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.[3] Furthermore, throughout his career he has maintained a strongly pro-choice stance on abortion. On several occasions he has enabled the defeat of moves to reduce the number of weeks at which the operation can be legally performed in Britain, by talking out the measure (filibustering) and other tactics. One such example was on January 20, 1989, when he held up proceedings by trying to move a writ for a by-election in the constituency of Richmond (Yorks), which was incidentally won by later Conservative leader William Hague.[4] He has explained his views by noting that his mother was often pregnant.

Skinner has demonstrated that he is willing to vote against government policy produced by his own party, choosing to remain classically left-wing and rebelling on notable issues. In 2003 he joined the sizeable number of Labour MPs who voted against the Iraq War, further, he later went on to rebel against the party line when he chose to vote against government policy that intended to allow terror suspects to be detained without trial for 90 days. Skinner has also rebelled against his party on other issues; in March 2007 he joined the 88 other Labour MPs who voted against government policy to renew the Trident Nuclear Missile System. Skinner remains loyal to the old Labour policies on which he originally was elected into office, and which can be reflected by his membership of the Socialist Campaign Group.

He is known for his republican (i.e., anti-monarchist) sentiments, although unlike other Labour left-wingers such as Tony Benn, Kevin McNamara, Ken Livingstone and Clare Short, he has never publicly expressed support for Irish republicanism.

Usually sitting on the first seat of the front bench below the gangway in the Commons (known as the "Awkward Squad Bench" due to the fact that it is where rebel Labour Party MPs have traditionally sat) in a distinctive tweed jacket (whilst most other MPs wear suits) and signature red tie, he gained the sobriquet "the Beast of Bolsover" for falling foul of the procedures of Parliament, many of which are in his view archaic and contemptible.


Skinner has been suspended from Parliament on at least ten occasions, usually for "unparliamentary language" when attacking opponents. Infractions have included:

  • In 1992, referring to the Minister of Agriculture John Gummer as "slimy" and a "wart".
  • In 1995, accusing the government of a "crooked deal" to sell off Britain's coal mines.
  • On 8 December 2005, when referring to the economic record of the Conservatives in the 1980s, making the remark, "The only thing that was growing then were the lines of coke in front of boy George and the rest of the Tories", a reference to allegations originally published in the Sunday Mirror of cocaine use by the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne (though, in the Commons, Skinner referred to the News of the World).[5]
  • On 20 April 2006, accusing Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst of leniency towards remarks made by opposition frontbencher Theresa May "because she's a Tory".[6][7]

Queen's Speech "jokes"

Skinner has traditionally cracked "jokes", usually about the Royal Family, during the annual Queen's Speech ceremony. He does this upon the arrival of Black Rod (the symbol of Royal authority in the House of Commons) to summon MPs to hear the Queen's speech in the House of Lords.

  • On arrival of Black Rod quipping "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label"; a reference to an advertising campaign at the time[8]
  • In 1992, he said to Black Rod "Tell her to pay her taxes"; at the time, this was an important political issue.
  • In 1997, he shouted "New Labour, New Black Rod".[9] A reference to Labour's election campaign slogan "New Labour, New Britain".
  • In 2000, he shouted out "Tell her to read the Guardian!" - the Guardian newspaper was campaigning at the time to repeal various laws relating to the monarchy.
  • In 2003, he suggested that the Speaker "bar the doors" after Black Rod had arrived, a practice that is used to block late-arriving MPs from casting their votes after the division bells have been sounded. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Skinner was scoffed at by Speaker Michael Martin.
  • In 2005, Skinner shouted out, after Black Rod summoned the Commons to hear the Queen, "has she brought Camilla [the second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales] with her?"; there had been media rumours that the Queen and Camilla were not on good terms.
  • In 2006, Skinner responded to Black Rod's invitation with "Is Helen Mirren on standby?", in reference to the portrayal by Helen Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen. The BBC political commentator Huw Edwards called the quip "cheap but funny".
  • In 2007, he asked "Who shot the harriers?" referring to a recent event in Sandringham, where two protected harriers had been shot near a royal property. Prince Harry and a friend had been questioned by police over the incident.
  • In 2008, he asked, "any Tory moles at the Palace?", referring to the recent arrest of Conservative MP Damian Green in connection with an investigation about him receiving confidential information from a civil servant at the Home Office who was formerly a Conservative Party candidate. To which Black Rod quipped, "I shall miss you, Dennis", receiving laughter from other MPs. The 2008 State Opening of Parliament was Michael Willcocks' last as Black Rod.[10]
  • In 2009, he stated "Royal Expenses are on the way", a reference to the expenses scandal.

Personal life

He is the third son (of nine children) of Edward Skinner and Lucy Dudley. He married Mary Parker in 1960. They had one son (born 1962 and also called Dennis) and two daughters (Dawn born 1960 and Mandy born 1966). He separated from her in 1989. A few years later he moved in with his American researcher, Lois Blasenheim. They have cohabited since at least 1993. He underwent a double heart bypass operation in March 2003 at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and has had bladder cancer. He lives in South Normanton in his constituency.

Other quotes

"Tell the House of Lords to go to hell."

- During the 2004 fox hunting debate in the House of Commons.[11]

"I thought you were taking Marquand with you."

- Heckling Roy Jenkins in 1976 when, during his farewell speech to the Parliamentary Labour Party before leaving to become President of the European Commission, he said: "I leave this party without rancour". Jenkins, who famously pronounced his Rs like Ws, left the Commons at the same time as David Marquand, the MP for Ashfield and a close ally of Jenkins.

"Does my hon. Friend agree that when millions of parents and others in Britain are wrestling with the problems of drug abuse among young people, and when the Government are trying to do their level best to tackle those problems, it is a sad state of affairs that the Tory Opposition receive £1 million a year from one of the biggest drug runners in the west?" [Members of the House: "Oh."] Is it not high time that the Leader of the Opposition had the guts to get rid of him?"

- Dennis Skinner, referring to allegations about Michael Ashcroft at the time

"When I called the Right Hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) a pompous sod, Mr. Speaker said to me, 'You had better withdraw that'. I said I would withdraw 'pompous', but said, Mr. Speaker 'That's not the word I'm looking for.' There was laughter in the House and everyone thought that I had hit the nail on the head. I thought that that was a real parliamentary triumph, but Mr. Speaker thought differently. He said, 'Off you go,' and I did not get a chance to reply." [12 ]

"The Hon. Gentleman is making pretty heavy weather of the fact that he was kicked out of this gentleman's club for 20 days. I call it a gentlemen's club, but it is known as the mother of Parliaments, although only about 42 women are allowed in here. The Hon. Gentleman is complaining that he got 20 days. His real problem is the fact that he is not the Tory Party candidate at the next election - and that has nothing to do with what happened in this place.

I have been kicked out of this place about seven times, but I did not have any chance to explain. No one said to me, "Dennis, will you explain why you said that the Right Hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was lining his pockets when he picked up that non-executive directorship of British Telecom?" I would have loved to tell everyone all about that, but Mr. Speaker said, "On your bike - early bath," and off I had to go.

I accused the noble Lord, Lord Pym, when he was a Member of this House, of being the Minister for Unemployment because there were nearly 2 million people on the scrap heap - that pile of human misery known as the dole queue. Again, I was not able to make a speech before Mr. Speaker sent me out.

Those were all genuine statements that I had to make. The Hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was kicked out for 20 days because he lined his pockets with about £50,000 and did not put it in the register as he is supposed to do, and now he is whingeing but I reckon he got away with blue murder!" [12 ]


External links

News items

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Harold Neal
Member of Parliament for Bolsover
Political offices
Preceded by
Neil Kinnock
Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Jo Richardson

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