|Skinner outside Parliament, October 2011|
|Chairman of the Labour Party|
13 June 1988 – 27 October 1989
|Preceded by||Neil Kinnock|
|Succeeded by||Jo Richardson|
|Member of Parliament
18 June 1970
|Preceded by||Harold Neal|
|Born||Dennis Edward Skinner
11 February 1932
Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England
|Alma mater||Ruskin College, Oxford|
Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British Labour Party politician (nicknamed "The Beast of Bolsover") who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover since 1970, the Chairman of the Labour Party from 1988 to 1989, and has sat on the National Executive Committee numerous times since 1978.
Born in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, Skinner is the third of nine children of coal miner Edward Skinner, who was sacked after the 1926 general strike. Skinner himself worked as a miner for over 20 years, during which he became an NUM leader and Clay Cross Labour Party councillor. He is known for his left-wing views, acid tongue and for never missing a Commons session.
He is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.
Skinner was educated at Tupton Hall Grammar School (now Tupton Hall School) after passing the Eleven-plus a year early. He worked in the mines from 1949 to 1970, at Parkhouse Colliery in Clay Cross until it closed in 1962, then at Glapwell Colliery near Chesterfield. He joined the Labour Party in 1956.
Skinner was a member of the Derbyshire County Council from 1964 to 1970, and a Clay Cross councillor from 1960 to 1970. He was leader of the Derbyshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers between 1966 and 1970. He attended Ruskin College in his 30s, after attending a preparatory course run by the NUM at the University of Sheffield.
Skinner was elected MP for the Labour safe-seat of Bolsover in the 1970 general election. He has held the seat ever since. On taking his seat, he undertook publicly to stand down from Parliament at the age of 65 (therefore in 1997), just as he would have retired as a miner. He said this was so he would not be 'taking another man's job'. Nevertheless he has since stood and been re-elected in four General Elections. He was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers and its then leader Arthur Scargill in the 1984-85 miners' strike. Skinner is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group.
Skinner takes a liberal stance regarding social issues. He voted in favour of equalisation of the age of consent, civil partnerships, adoption rights for same-sex couples, and to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. 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 termination of a pregnancy can be legally performed in Britain by "talking out the measure" (filibustering), as on 20 January 1989, when he held up proceedings by trying to move a writ for a by-election in the constituency of Richmond. He had previously used this filibuster technique on 7 June 1985, when preventing a bill by Enoch Powell, which would have banned stem cell research, from being debated. He held up proceedings by moving a writ for a by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Skinner regards his defeat of Powell's bill as his proudest political achievement.
In 2003, he was one of a large number of Labour MPs who voted against the Iraq War; he later rebelled against the party line when he voted against government policy to allow terror suspects to be detained without trial for 90 days. In March 2007, Skinner and 88 other Labour MPs voted against the government's policy of renewing the Trident Nuclear Missile System.
Skinner has been suspended from Parliament on at least ten occasions, usually for "unparliamentary language" when attacking opponents. Infractions have included:
Known for his republican, anti-monarchist sentiments, Skinner has regularly 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 Lords) to summon MPs to hear the Queen's speech in the Lords' chamber. The best known, according to the New Statesman and other sources, are listed as follows:
|1980||None||Skinner and other Labour MPs blocked the entrance of Black Rod who was attempting to summon the Commons for the prorogation of Parliament. The cause being the Conservative government announcing increased rents for council houses, which the Labour Party wanted more information on.|
|1987||"Tell her to sell up!"||A reference to the tightening of belts in the United Kingdom.|
|1988||"Hey up, Here comes Puss In Boots!"||To Black Rod Sir John Gingell.|
|1989||"Oh, It's a good outfit!"||To Black Rod Sir John Gingell.|
|1990||"I bet he drinks Carling Black Label."
"It tolls for thee Maggie."
|Spoken to Black Rod; reference to a popular advertising campaign at the time. Later he made a second comment which was a reference to the impending departure of Margaret Thatcher.|
|1992||"Tell her to pay her tax!"||In reference to the calls for the Queen to pay income tax.|
|1993||"Back to basics with Black Rod."||A reference to the "Back to Basics" campaign by the then Conservative government of John Major.|
|1995||"New Labour, New Black Rod!"||A reference to Labour's election campaign slogan, "New Labour, New Britain" and to new Black Rod Sir Edward Jones.|
|1996||"New Labour, New Black Rod!"||Told the same quip as the previous year.|
|1997||"Do you want to borrow a Queen's Speech?"||Told to Black Rod.|
|2000||"Tell her to read the Guardian!"||The Guardian newspaper was campaigning at the time to repeal various laws relating to the monarchy.|
|2001||"You're nowt but a midget!!"||Told to new Black Rod Michael Willcocks to much laughter in the chamber.|
|2003||"Bar the doors."
"Did she lock the door behind her?"
|Skinner 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. After the command he also said "Did she lock the door behind her?" to laughter from other MPs. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Skinner was scoffed at by Speaker Michael Martin.|
|2004||"Aye, you've got a job to aspire to."||Spoken to Blackrod.|
|2005||"Has she brought Camilla with her?"||Referencing Charles, Prince of Wales' recent marriage.|
|2006||"Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?"||Reference to the portrayal by Helen Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen, to much laughter.|
|2007||"Who shot the harriers?"||Referring to a recent event in Sandringham, where two protected hen harriers had been shot near a royal property. Prince Harry and a friend had been questioned by police over the incident.|
|2008||"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.|
|2009||"Royal Expenses are on the way."||Reference to the parliamentary expenses scandal.|
|2010||"No royal commissions this week."||Reference to the recent newspaper story in the News of the World which revealed that the former Duchess of York had taken cash payments for introducing businessmen to the Duke of York. Interestingly this time, whether through error or purpose, he made his one-liner in the middle of Yeoman Usher Ted Lloyd-Jukes' (who was filling in for an ill Black Rod) speech. To which the Yeoman Usher replied at the end, "Thank you, Dennis".|
|2012||"Jubilee Year, double-dip recession, what a start!"||Referring to the Queen's Jubilee year and that the United Kingdom had just entered into a second recession. This quip was responded to by a mixture of laughter and some shouts of "Shame" and "Absolute Disgrace".|
|2013||"Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised."||This caused a great deal of laughter within the House of Commons and was in reference to the coalition government's proposed privatisation of Royal Mail, going against recently deceased Margaret Thatcher's promise that she was "not prepared to have the Queen's head privatised".|
|2014||"Coalition's last stand"||Referring to the last 11 months of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition (and its final parliamentary session) before the election in May 2015|
He often tells of turning up for work at his colliery after he had been elected as an MP, refusing to see it as his new occupation. This is the reason Skinner gives for refusing 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 agree a mutual abstention with a Conservative MP, 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. 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 holidays '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 usually sits on the first seat of the front bench below the gangway in the Commons (known as the "Awkward Squad Bench" because 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. He was once described by the "Bagehot" opinion column in The Economist as a "hard-left oddball".
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Bolsover
|Chair of the Labour Party