|President of the Socialist Campaign Group|
|Assumed office |
6 May 2020
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Member of Parliament|
18 June 1970 – 6 November 2019
|Preceded by||Harold Neal|
|Succeeded by||Mark Fletcher|
|President of the Derbyshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers|
|Preceded by||Herbert Parkin|
|Succeeded by||Raymond Ellis (1972)|
Dennis Edward Skinner
11 February 1932
Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England
|Socialist Campaign Group (1982–present)|
(m. 1960; sep. 1989)
|Domestic partner||Lois Blasenheim|
|Alma mater||Ruskin College|
|Nickname||Beast of Bolsover|
Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British former politician who served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover for 49 years, from 1970 to 2019. He is a member of the Labour Party who is known for his left-wing views, republican sentiments, and acerbic wit.
Skinner belonged to the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. He was a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, with brief breaks, for 30 years, and was the chairman of the Committee in 1988–89. He was one of the longest serving members of the House of Commons and the longest continuously-serving Labour MP. He is a lifelong Eurosceptic.
During his parliamentary career, Skinner was suspended from Parliament on at least ten occasions, usually for unparliamentary language when attacking opponents. He also regularly heckled during the annual Queen's Speech ceremony upon the arrival of Black Rod.
Early life and career
Born in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, Skinner is the third of nine children. His father Edward Skinner was a coal miner who was sacked after the 1926 general strike, and his mother Lucy was a cleaner. In June 1942, at the age of 10, Skinner won a scholarship to attend Tupton Hall Grammar School after passing the eleven-plus a year early. In 1949, he went on to work as a coal miner at Parkhouse colliery, working there until its closure in 1962. He then worked at Glapwell colliery near Bolsover. In 1956 Skinner entered the Sheffield Star Walk, an amateur walking race, and finished second.
In 1964, at the age of 32, he became the youngest-ever president of the Derbyshire region of the National Union of Mineworkers. After working for 20 years as a miner, he became a member of Derbyshire County Council and a Clay Cross councillor in the 1960s. In 1967, he attended Ruskin College, after completing a course run by the National Union of Mineworkers at the University of Sheffield.
In 1956, Skinner joined the Labour Party. He was chosen as Parliamentary Prospective candidate for Bolsover on 5 June 1969. Skinner was elected as MP for the-then safe Labour seat of Bolsover at the 1970 general election. Due to his aggressive rhetoric, Skinner became known as the "Beast of Bolsover". Skinner recalls that he earned the nickname for his behaviour in a tribute debate in the Commons following the death of former Conservative Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden in 1977: "They were making speeches about the wonder of Anthony Eden, so I got up and talked about miners and people seriously injured and dead in the pits and the £200 given to the widow. There was booing and then all the Tories left and the papers had a go, some serious ones".
During his tenure in the Commons, Skinner would usually sit 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 tweed jacket (whilst most other MPs wear suits) and signature red tie. In 2016, he stated that he had never sent an email and did not have a Twitter account.
Skinner was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers and their leader Arthur Scargill in the 1984–85 miners' strike. Skinner refused to accept a parliamentary salary in excess of miners' wages, and during the miners' strike he donated his wages to the NUM.
Skinner has voted for equalisation of the age of consent, civil partnerships, adoption rights for same-sex couples, to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and for same-sex couples to marry, and has a strongly pro-choice stance on abortion. On 20 January 1989, he talked out a move to reduce the number of weeks at which an abortion can be legally performed in Britain by moving the writ for the Richmond by-election. On 7 June 1985, he talked out a bill by UUP backbencher Enoch Powell which would have banned stem cell research by moving the writ for the by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Skinner later described this as his proudest political moment.
In 1979, Skinner played a role in publicly exposing Anthony Blunt as a spy for the Soviet Union. On Thursday 15 November 1979, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher revealed Blunt's wartime role in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in reply to questions put to her by Ted Leadbitter, MP for Hartlepool, and Skinner:
Mr. Leadbitter and Mr. Skinner: Asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on recent evidence concerning the actions of an individual, whose name has been supplied to her, in relation to the security of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister: "The name which the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) has given me is that of Sir Anthony Blunt."
In 2000, Skinner denounced former ally Ken Livingstone, then serving as a Labour MP. Livingstone had failed to win the party's nomination to be a candidate for Mayor of London, and had then decided to run as an independent candidate instead, urging his supporters to help Green Party candidates get elected. Skinner said that Livingstone had betrayed Labour Party activists in his Brent East constituency, whom he described as having fought for him "like tigers" when his majority had been small: "He tells them he's going to be the Labour candidate, then he lies to them. To me that's as low as you can get". He contrasted Livingstone with the official Labour candidate, Frank Dobson, saying that Dobson was "a bloke and a half... not a prima donna ... not someone with an ego as big as a house". Skinner said Livingstone would "hit the headlines, but you'll never be able to trust him because he's broken his pledge and his loyalty to his party. The personality cult of the ego does not work down a coal mine and it does not work in the Labour Party".
Conversely, despite his renowned left-wing views, Skinner for a long time had a positive relationship with Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leading figure on the right-wing of the party, stemming from advice that Skinner gave Blair regarding public speaking. As recently as February 2018, he described the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ministries as a "golden period" for the NHS. However, Skinner strongly criticised Blair in May 2019, after the former Prime Minister had advised pro-Remain Labour supporters who felt that the party's line on Brexit was too ambiguous to vote for explicitly pro-Remain parties in the 2019 European Parliament election; in the Morning Star, Skinner described Blair as a "destructive force" who was "try(ing) to destroy the Labour Party so people keep talking about his reign" and stating that he "went into Iraq and destroyed himself. He helped David Cameron and Theresa May into power. You're talking about a man who made a mess of it."
In 2003, Skinner was among the quarter 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 up to 90 days. In 2007, Skinner and 88 other Labour MPs voted against the Labour Government's policy of renewing the Trident Nuclear Missile System.
Skinner supported David Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership election, which was won by his brother Ed Miliband. In March 2011, he was one of 15 MPs who voted against British participation in NATO's Libya intervention.
In May 2014, Skinner was the principal guest speaker at the Kent Miners Rally at the Aylesham & District Social Club to commemorate 30 years since the Miners Strike 1984/1985.
Skinner was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate in the Labour leadership election of 2015. Shortly after Corbyn was elected as leader, Skinner was elected to Labour's National Executive Committee, on which he remained until October 2016. Skinner supported Corbyn, alongside the majority of Labour MPs, in voting against the extension of RAF airstrikes against ISIS in Syria in December 2015. Skinner voted for Britain to leave the European Union in June 2016 and favours outright abolition of the House of Lords.
Following the retirement of Peter Tapsell in 2015, Skinner was one of the four longest-serving MPs, but did not become Father of the House, as two other MPs, who were also first elected in 1970, had been sworn in earlier on the same day and consecutively both held that position: Gerald Kaufman (2015–2017) and Kenneth Clarke (2017–2019). Skinner, the oldest sitting MP since 2017, stated that in any case he would not accept the honorific title. In 2019, with Clarke's impending retirement, the issue of Skinner becoming Father of the House resurfaced but was rendered moot, when Skinner lost his seat at the 2019 general election to Mark Fletcher of the Conservative Party.
Skinner was suspended from Parliament on at least 10 occasions, usually for unparliamentary language when attacking opponents. Notable infractions included:
- In 1980, he attempted to raise points of order during question time, against parliamentary practice, which led to a prolonged argument with Speaker of the House of Commons George Thomas.
- In 1981, accusing Speaker Thomas (a former Labour MP) of attending functions to raise funds for the ruling Conservative Party.
- Twice in 1984, once for calling David Owen a "pompous sod" (and only agreeing to withdraw "pompous"), and the second time for stating Margaret Thatcher would "bribe judges".
- In 1987, for accusing former cabinet minister Norman Tebbit of 'lining his pockets' and being 'dishonourable' as a result of his directorship and large shareholdings of British Telecom, a company he had privatised as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, which Labour MPs perceived as a conflict of interest.
- In 1992, referring to the Minister of Agriculture John Gummer as "a little squirt of a Minister" and "a slimy wart on Margaret Thatcher's nose".
- In 1995, accusing the Major government of a "crooked deal" to sell off Britain's coal mines.
- In 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 newly appointed Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne (though, in the Commons, Skinner referred to the News of the World).
- In 2006, accusing Deputy Speaker Alan Haselhurst of leniency towards remarks made by opposition frontbencher and future Prime Minister Theresa May "because she's a Tory".
- In 2016, for referring to Prime Minister David Cameron as "dodgy Dave" in relation to Cameron's tax affairs.
Queen's Speech quips
Known for his republican sentiments, Skinner regularly heckled during the annual Queen's Speech ceremony. He did 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:
|1987||"Tell her to sell up!"||A reference to the financial situation in the United Kingdom.|
|1988||"Ey 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 and 1996||"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.|
|1997||"Do you want to borrow a Queen's Speech?"||Told to Black Rod.|
|2000||"Tell her to read The Guardian!"||The Guardian was campaigning at the time to abolish the monarchy.|
|2001||"You're nowt but a midget!"||Told to new Black Rod Sir 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 Black Rod.|
|2005||"Has she brought Camilla with her?"||Of the Queen referencing Charles, Prince of Wales' recent wedding.|
|2006||"Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?"||Reference to the portrayal by Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen.|
|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's 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. Whether through error or purpose, he made his one-liner in the middle of Yeoman Usher Ted Lloyd-Jukes's (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 claims that the United Kingdom had just entered into a second recession. This quip was responded to by a mixture of laughter and shouts of "Shame" and "Absolute disgrace".|
|2013||"Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised."||This was in reference to the coalition government's proposed privatisation of the 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.|
|2015||None||Skinner later revealed to the press that he was too preoccupied with preventing newly elected SNP members taking his traditional seat on the opposition front bench. He told The Daily Telegraph, "I was engaged in an activity today to ensure that the Scot Nats weren't going to take over that front bench. I was up at just after 6 o'clock and I had to do it yesterday."|
|2016||"Hands off the BBC!"||Referencing the government's white paper on the BBC.|
|2017||"Yeah, get your skates on, first race is half past two!"||Referencing the Queen's attendance at Royal Ascot later that day.|
|2019||"No, I'll not be going."||Skinner did not attend the Queen's Speech.|
Nature of the Beast documentary
A documentary about Skinner sanctioned by him, Nature of the Beast, was completed in 2017 by production company Shut Out The Light. The documentary traces Skinner's rise to political icon status and covers his working-class upbringing, his family influences and his hobbies away from "The Palace of Varieties". Skinner's four surviving brothers and several of his Bolsover constituents were interviewed for the documentary.
Derby Theatre commissioned Kevin Fegan to write a play inspired by Skinner, entitled The Palace of Varieties – life and times of Dennis Skinner, to be performed at Derby Theatre in early 2022.
In 2020, Skinner endorsed Richard Burgon for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
On 6 May 2020, he was named honorary president of the Socialist Campaign Group.
In September 2020, Robb Johnson's song about Skinner, Tony Skinner's Lad, topped the Amazon download chart.
In 1960, Skinner married Mary Parker, from whom he separated in 1989. He has three children and four grandchildren. Since the 1990s, his partner has been former researcher Lois Blasenheim.
In 1999, Skinner was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer and subsequently had surgery to remove a malignant tumour. In 2003, he underwent a double heart bypass operation. He underwent hip surgery in 2019. He was too ill to campaign in the 2019 general election after he was hospitalised with a dangerous infection following the hip operation.[better source needed] He was not present at the count when he lost his seat.
Skinner's mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease prior to her death in the 1980s. Skinner sang to his late mother when she was diagnosed with the disease and was inspired by her ability to recall old songs. Since 2008, he has visited care homes in Derbyshire to sing to elderly patients with dementia.
Skinner is a supporter of Derby County Football Club and Derbyshire County Cricket Club.
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- Profile at Parliament of the United Kingdom
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard
- Contributions in Parliament at Hansard 1803–2005
- Voting record at Public Whip
- Record in Parliament at TheyWorkForYou
- Biography at Stuart Thomson
- Contact details at This Is Derbyshire
- Video: My first job – Dennis Skinner MP on YouTube on the IOSH's channel on YouTube
- This much I know, Skinner runs down some matters of importance to him, hosted by The Guardian
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Portraits of Dennis Skinner at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- 1932 births
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