Dennis Skinner

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Dennis Skinner
Dennis Skinner MP Parliament.jpg
Dennis Skinner MP in 2016
Chairman of the Labour Party
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 11,778 (26.8%)
Personal details
Born Dennis Edward Skinner
(1932-02-11) 11 February 1932 (age 85)
Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Mary Parker (separated)
Children 3
Alma mater Ruskin College
Profession Miner

Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British Labour politician who has been Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover since 1970. He was Chairman of the Labour Party from 1988–1989 and served as a member of its National Executive Committee.

He is known for his left-wing views, acerbic wit,[1] and for never missing a Commons session. He is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

Early life[edit]

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.[2]

Skinner attended Tupton Hall Grammar School after passing the eleven-plus a year early.[3] 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.

Union and political career[edit]

Skinner at the 2016 Labour Party Conference

After his 20 year career as a miner, Skinner became a member of Derbyshire County Council where he worked between 1964 and 1970. He was also Clay Cross councillor from 1960 to 1970. He was president of the Derbyshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers between 1966 and 1970. He attended Ruskin College in his thirties, after attending a preparatory course run by the NUM at the University of Sheffield.[citation needed]

Skinner was first elected MP for the safe Labour seat of Bolsover at the 1970 general election and has retained it since then. He was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers and its leader Arthur Scargill in the 1984-85 miners' strike. Skinner is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group.[citation needed]

Skinner has voted for equalisation of the age of consent, civil partnerships, adoption rights for same-sex couples and to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,[4] 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 termination of a pregnancy can be legally performed in Britain by moving a writ for the Richmond by-election.[5] On 7 June 1985, he talked out a bill by Enoch Powell which would have banned stem cell research by moving a writ for a by-election in Brecon and Radnor.[6][7][8]

In 2000, Skinner denounced former ally Ken Livingstone, at the time 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".[9]

In 2003, Skinner 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 2007, Skinner and 88 other Labour MPs voted against the government's policy of renewing the Trident Nuclear Missile System.[10]

Skinner supported David Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership election, which was won by David's brother, Ed Miliband.[11] In March 2011, he was one of 15 MPs[12] who voted against British participation in NATO's Libya intervention.

He stated in 2014 that he has never sent an email, and does not have a Twitter account.[13]

Skinner was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate in the Labour leadership election of 2015.[14] He later supported Corbyn, alongside the majority of Labour MPs, in voting against the extension of RAF airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Syria on 2 December 2015.[15][16]

Skinner voted for Britain to leave the European Union.

Upon the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman, Dennis Skinner became the oldest serving MP, but did not become Father of the House despite being elected to parliament on the same day as Kaufman and Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke in 1970. This is due to the way seniority is calculated, when two or more MPs were elected on the same day, the one who was sworn in first is considered to be the more senior.


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

  • In 1984, accusing Margaret Thatcher of bribing judges.
  • In 1992, referring to the Minister of Agriculture John Gummer as a "little squirt of a Minister" and a "wart".
  • In 1995, accusing the 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 Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne (though, in the Commons, Skinner referred to the News of the World).
  • In 2006, accusing Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst of leniency towards remarks made by opposition frontbencher and future Prime Minister Theresa May "because she's a Tory".[17]
  • In 2016, for referring to Prime Minister David Cameron as "Dodgy Dave" in relation to Cameron's tax affairs.[18]

Queen's Speech "jokes"[edit]

Known for his republican sentiments, Skinner has regularly heckled 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:[19]

Year Quote Notes
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[dubious ] 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.[20]
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.[21]
1992 "Tell her to pay her tax!" In reference to the calls for the Queen to pay income tax.[22]
1993 "Back to basics with Black Rod." A reference to the Back to Basics campaign by the then Conservative government of John Major.[23]
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.[24]
1996 "New Labour, New Black Rod!" The same quip as the previous year.[25]
1997 "Do you want to borrow a Queen's Speech?" Told to Black Rod.[26]
2000 "Tell her to read The Guardian!" The Guardian was campaigning at the time to repeal various laws relating to the monarchy.[27]
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.[28]
2004 "Aye, you've got a job to aspire to." Spoken to Black Rod.[29]
2005 "Has she brought Camilla with her?" Referencing Charles, Prince of Wales' recent marriage.[30]
2006 "Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?" Reference to the portrayal by Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen, to much laughter.[31]
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.[32]
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.[33]
2009 "Royal Expenses are on the way." Reference to the parliamentary expenses scandal.[34]
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".[35]
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 shouts of "Shame" and "Absolute disgrace".[36][37]
2013 "Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised." This 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".[38]
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 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."[39]
2016 "Hands off the BBC!" Referencing the government's white paper on the BBC.[40]

Commons attendance[edit]

In the 2004–05 sitting of the House he claimed the least expenses for an MP who served the full year.[41] He has never been a member of an All-Party Parliamentary Group;[42] does not eat alongside parliamentary colleagues in the Commons dining room; does not take trips or holidays paid for by others; never buys a round 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 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.

Nature of the Beast documentary[edit]

In 2014 production began on a documentary about Skinner. Principal photography was completed in the summer of 2016 and the feature length film by Shut Out The Light is awaiting completion funding.[43] The documentary traces Skinner's rise to a political icon and covers his working-class upbringing, his family influences and his hobbies away from "The Palace of Varieties". Filming locations included the House of Commons, Hyde Park, Clay Cross, Durham Miners' Gala and at several events where Skinner was speaking, including Rhyl, Ashton-under-Lyne and Gainsborough. His four surviving brothers and several Bolsover constituents make up the remaining interviewees of the documentary.


  1. ^ Broomhead, Michael (24 November 2014). "Profile:Dennis Skinner,The Beast of Bolsover, 5 of his Best Quotes". The Star. London. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Roth, Andrew (26 March 2001). "Profile:Dennis Skinner". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "Profile: The beast that roars from the pits: Dennis Skinner MP, incorruptible class act". London: The Independent. 12 December 1992. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  4. ^ "Dennis Skinner MP, Bolsover voted strongly for the policy Homosexuality - Equal rights". Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  5. ^ "House of Commons Friday 20 January 1989 The House met at half-past Nine o'clock". Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  6. ^ White, Michael (22 May 2008). "Stem cells: When the Beast of Bolsover snookered Enoch Powell". The Guardian. London. 
  7. ^ "New Writ (Brecon and Radnor)". 
  8. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (17 June 2012). "Dennis Skinner: 'I was formed in the pits and the war'". The Guardian. London. 
  9. ^ Michael White, Political Editor (20 April 2000). "Old leftwing ally Skinner turns on Livingstone". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "Trident vote: Labour rebels". BBC News. BBC. 14 March 2007. Retrieved 27 April 2014. 
  11. ^ "David Miliband's Labour leadership bid wins backing of Dennis Skinner". The Guardian. London. via The Press Association. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  12. ^ "BBC News - The full list of how MPs voted on Libya action". 22 March 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  13. ^ ChatPolitics (2014-11-28), Dennis Skinner on Santa Claus, his fake 'Twitters' account, God, and UKIP vs the Greens, retrieved 2016-05-15 
  14. ^ "Who nominated who for the 2015 Labour leadership election?". New Statesman. 15 June 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015. 
  15. ^ Stone, Jon (3 December 2015). "How MPs voted on bombing ISIS in Syria - full list". The Independent. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  16. ^ "Syria strikes: Find out how your MP voted". BBC. 3 December 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  17. ^ "Skinner thrown out of the Commons - again", The Guardian, 20 April 2006.
  18. ^ "Dennis Skinner kicked out of Commons for Cameron jibe". BBC News. 11 April 2016. 
  19. ^ "Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech jokes". New Statesman. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  20. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 1:52. 
  21. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 2:32. 
  22. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 3:54. 
  23. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 5:02. 
  24. ^ "Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech jokes". 
  25. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 6:35. 
  26. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 18 March 2013. Event occurs at 7:11. 
  27. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 8:07. 
  28. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 8:42. 
  29. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 9:19. 
  30. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 9:52. 
  31. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 10:56. 
  32. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 10:51. 
  33. ^ "Appointment to the post of Black Rod". Parliament of the United Kingdom. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2009. 
  34. ^ State Opening of Parliament 2009 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth including Black Rod. 19 November 2009. Event occurs at 5:15. 
  35. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 14:06. 
  36. ^ "Skinner's 'recession' heckle angers Tory MPs". BBC News. 9 May 2012. 
  37. ^ Video on YouTube
  38. ^ Neate, Rupert (9 May 2013). "Royal Mail sale: ministers set to go where Thatcher feared to tread". Guardian. London. 
  39. ^ "Dennis Skinner-SNP battle left me too tired to heckle during Queens speech". The Telegraph. 27 May 2015. 
  40. ^ "Dennis Skinner zings the Queen's Speech by shouting 'Hands off the BBC!'". Mirror. 18 May 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2016. 
  41. ^ Assinder, Nick (31 October 2005). "Commons Confidential: October 2005". BBC. Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  42. ^ [1]
  43. ^

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Harold Neal
Member of Parliament for Bolsover
Party political offices
Preceded by
Neil Kinnock
Chairman of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Jo Richardson
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Gerald Kaufman
Oldest sitting Member of Parliament
Trade union offices
Preceded by
Herbert Parkin
President of the Derbyshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers
1966 – 1970
Succeeded by