Dennis Skinner

Dennis Skinner

Dennis Skinner MP Parliament.jpg
Skinner in 2011
Chairman of the National Executive Committee
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 5,288 (11.4%)
Personal details
Dennis Edward Skinner

(1932-02-11) 11 February 1932 (age 87)
Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Other political
Socialist Campaign Group
Mary Parker
( m. 1960; separated 1989)
Domestic partner Lois Blasenheim
Relations 4 (grandchildren)
Children 3
Alma mater Ruskin College
Profession Miner, politician

Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British politician of the Labour Party serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover since 1970. Skinner became the longest continuously serving Labour MP on 16 December 2017.[1] He was Chairman of the Labour Party for a year from 1988 to 1989 and served as a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, with brief breaks, for thirty years.[2]

He is known for his left-wing views[3] and an acerbic wit.[4] He is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.[5]

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[6] and his mother Lucy was a cleaner.[7]

In 1942, at the age of 10, Skinner won a scholarship to attend Tupton Hall Grammar School[7] after passing the eleven-plus a year early. In 1949, he went on to work as a coal miner[8][9] at Parkhouse colliery until its closure in 1962. He then worked at Glapwell colliery near Chesterfield.[7]

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,[10] he became a member of Derbyshire County Council[10] and a Clay Cross councillor in the 1960s.[9]

In 1967, he attended Ruskin College, Oxford, after completing a course run by the National Union of Mineworkers at the University of Sheffield.[7][11]

Parliamentary career

In 1956, Skinner joined the Labour Party.[7] He was first elected as MP for the safe Labour seat of Bolsover at the 1970 general election and has retained it ever since. He was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers and their leader Arthur Scargill in the 1984-85 miners' strike.[12]

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,[13] 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.[14] 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.[15][16][17] Skinner later described this as his proudest political moment.[18]

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".[19]

Conversely, despite his left-wing views Skinner had a positive relationship with Prime Minister Tony Blair, a leading figure on the right of the party, stemming from advice that Skinner gave Blair regarding public speaking.[18] During a session of Prime Minister's Questions in February 2018, he described the Blair and Brown ministries as a "golden period" for the NHS.[20] However, after Blair 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, Skinner strongly criticised him in comments to the Morning Star in May 2019, describing 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".[21]

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 ninety days. In 2007, Skinner and 88 other Labour MPs voted against the Labour government's policy of renewing the Trident Nuclear Missile System.[22]

Skinner supported David Miliband in the 2010 Labour leadership election, which was won by his brother Ed Miliband, with a very small margin.[23] In March 2011, he was one of 15 MPs[24] who voted against British participation in NATO's Libya intervention.

Skinner at the 2016 Labour Party Conference

In 2014, he was voted off Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC).[7] In the same year, he stated that he has never sent an email, and does not have a Twitter account.[25]

Skinner was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate in the Labour leadership election of 2015.[26] Shortly after Corbyn got elected as leader, Skinner is returned to the NEC.[27] 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 Wednesday 2 December 2015.[28][29]

Skinner voted for Britain to leave the European Union[30] and favours outright abolition of the House of Lords.[31] He stepped down from the NEC in October 2016.[32]

Following the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman, 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 stated in 2015 that he would not accept the honorific title.[33]


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

  • Twice in 1984, once for calling David Owen a "pompous sod" (and only agreeing to withdraw "pompous"),[34] and the second time for stating Thatcher would bribe judges.[35]
  • 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".[34]
  • In 1995, accusing the Major government of a "crooked deal" to sell off Britain's coal mines.[34]
  • 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".[36]
  • In 2016, for referring to Prime Minister David Cameron as "Dodgy Dave" in relation to Cameron's tax affairs.[37]

Queen's Speech quips

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:[38]

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 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.[39]
1990 "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label."
"It tolls for thee, Maggie."[40]
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.[41]
1992 "Tell her to pay her tax!" In reference to the calls for the Queen to pay income tax.[42]
1993 "Back to basics with Black Rod." A reference to the Back to Basics campaign by the then Conservative government of John Major.[43]
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.[44]
1996 "New Labour, New Black Rod!" The same quip as the previous year.[45]
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.[46][44]
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.[47]
2005 "Has she brought Camilla with her?" Of the Queen[48] referencing Charles, Prince of Wales' recent wedding.[49][49]
2006 "Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?" Reference to the portrayal by Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen.[50]
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.[44]
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.[51][52]
2009 "Royal Expenses are on the way." Reference to the parliamentary expenses scandal.[50]
2010 "No royal commissions this week."[53] 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".[citation needed]
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".[54]
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".[55]
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.[56]
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."[57]
2016 "Hands off the BBC!" Referencing the government's white paper on the BBC.[58]
2017 "Yeah, get your skates on, first race is half past two!" Referencing the Queen's attendance at Royal Ascot later that day.[59]
2018 None In 2018, Theresa May cancelled the ceremony by doubling the Parliamentary session to two years, so no quip could be made.[60]

Commons attendance

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.[citation needed] He is known as 'the Beast of Bolsover':[10] according to Skinner he earned the nickname for his behaviour in a tribute debate in the Commons following the death of former Conservative Prime Minister Anthony Eden[61] - "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".[18]

Nature of the Beast documentary

The first official documentary about Dennis Skinner, Nature of the Beast, was completed in 2017 by production company Shut Out The Light. Three years in the making, the film had its premiere at the Derby QUAD Cinema on 8 September 2017, before a UK cinema release. 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.[7]

Personal life

In 1960, Skinner married Mary Parker, with whom he has three children who all attended his old school, and graduated from the University of Manchester. He and his wife separated in 1989. His current partner is former researcher Lois Blasenheim.[7]

In 1999, Skinner was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer and subsequently had surgery to remove a malignant tumour from his bladder.[7] In 2003, he recovered from a double heart bypass operation.[7]

Skinner's mother was diagnosed[62] with Alzheimer's disease prior to her death[63] in the 1980s.[62] 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.[62]


  1. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn MP Official Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Mr Dennis Skinner MP". UK Parliament. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  3. ^ Broomhead, Michael (24 November 2014). "Profile: Dennis Skinner, The Beast of Bolsover, 5 of his Best Quotes". The Star. London. Retrieved 15 December 2014.
  4. ^ "Dennis Skinner quotes: the Beast of Bolsover in full flow", The Week, 25 February 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  5. ^ Editor, By Chris Hastings, Public Affairs. "Dennis Skinner: claimed for accountants' fees on MPs' expenses". Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  6. ^ Roth, Andrew (26 March 2001). "Profile: Dennis Skinner". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 9 June 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Adams, Tim (30 July 2017). "Dennis Skinner: 'I've never done any cross-party stuff. I can't even contemplate it'". The Observer. Retrieved 30 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Profile: The beast that roars from the pits: Dennis Skinner MP, incorruptible class act". The Independent. London. 12 December 1992. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
  9. ^ a b Moss, Stephen (2 May 2015). "Labour's Dennis Skinner at 83: 'Father of the House? You must be joking'" – via The Guardian.
  10. ^ a b c "Dennis Skinner, the 'Beast of Bolsover', is still roaring". 19 January 2015. Archived from the original on 5 August 2015.
  11. ^ "Thanks to Ruskin". The Guardian. 7 July 2014. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  12. ^ "Profile: The beast that roars from the pits: Dennis Skinner MP,". 12 December 1992. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  13. ^ "Dennis Skinner MP, Bolsover voted strongly for the policy Homosexuality - Equal rights". Retrieved 4 October 2008.
  14. ^ "House of Commons Friday 20 January 1989 The House met at half-past Nine o'clock". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 4 October 2008.
  15. ^ White, Michael (22 May 2008). "Stem cells: When the Beast of Bolsover snookered Enoch Powell". The Guardian. London.
  16. ^ "New Writ (Brecon and Radnor)".
  17. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (17 June 2012). "Dennis Skinner: 'I was formed in the pits and the war'". The Guardian. London.
  18. ^ a b c Boffey, Daniel (11 February 2012). "Dennis Skinner at 80: still awkward after all these years". Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  19. ^ White, Michael (20 April 2000). "Old leftwing ally Skinner turns on Livingstone". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2015.
  20. ^ Forrester, Kate (7 February 2018). "Dennis Skinner Claims Tony Blair's Government Was A 'Golden Period'". HuffPost. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  21. ^ Chacko, Ben (12 May 2019). "Blair is a 'destructive force' intent on 'destroying' Labour, Skinner warns". Retrieved 18 May 2019.
  22. ^ "Trident vote: Labour rebels". BBC News. BBC. 14 March 2007. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  23. ^ "David Miliband's Labour leadership bid wins backing of Dennis Skinner". The Guardian. via Press Association. 10 September 2010. Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  24. ^ "BBC News - The full list of how MPs voted on Libya action". 22 March 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  25. ^ ChatPolitics (28 November 2014), Dennis Skinner on Santa Claus, his fake 'Twitters' account, God, and UKIP vs the Greens, retrieved 15 May 2016
  26. ^ "Who nominated who for the 2015 Labour leadership election?". New Statesman. 15 June 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  27. ^ Gibbon, Gary (27 September 2015). "Hilary Benn bumped off NEC as Trident debate looms". Channel 4 News.
  28. ^ Stone, Jon (3 December 2015). "How MPs voted on bombing ISIS in Syria - full list". The Independent. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  29. ^ "Syria strikes: Find out how your MP voted". BBC News. 3 December 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  30. ^ "Beast of Bolsover backs Brexit | Coffee House". Coffee House. 9 June 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  31. ^ "BBC News | In Depth | UK Politics | Open Politics". Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  32. ^ Pope, Conor (4 July 2016). "Corbynistas and rebels make NEC gains as Skinner steps down". LabourList.
  33. ^ Moss, Stephen (2 May 2015). "Labour's Dennis Skinner at 83: 'Father of the House? You must be joking'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  34. ^ a b c Silvera, Ian (12 April 2016). "Dennis Skinner's record of rebellion: Veteran Labour MP kicked out of parliament yet again". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  35. ^ White, Michael (9 June 2010). "When is it a heckle too far for the House of Commons?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  36. ^ "Skinner thrown out of the Commons - again", The Guardian, 20 April 2006.
  37. ^ "Dennis Skinner kicked out of Commons for Cameron jibe". BBC News. 11 April 2016.
  38. ^ "Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech jokes". New Statesman. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
  39. ^ Glaze, Ben (18 May 2016). "Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech zingers and why there wasn't one last year". mirror. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  40. ^ "Queen's Speech 2015: Dennis Skinner breaks tradition and stays silent". Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  41. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 2:32.
  42. ^ Gani, Aisha (27 May 2015). "Dennis Skinner explains lack of Queen's speech quip: 'I was fighting Scots Nats'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  43. ^ Gani, Aisha (27 May 2015). "Dennis Skinner explains lack of Queen's speech quip: 'I was fighting Scots Nats'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  44. ^ a b c "Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech jokes". Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  45. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 6:35.
  46. ^ Leader (6 December 2000). "Magic or not, let in the daylight". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  47. ^ Dennis Skinner- A collection of quips to Blackrod from 1989-2013-State Opening of Parliament. 16 March 2013. Event occurs at 9:19.
  48. ^ Gimson, By Andrew. "Uniform response from Lords sets the standard". Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  49. ^ a b "BBC ON THIS DAY | 9 | 2005: Prince Charles marries Camilla". Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  50. ^ a b Gani, Aisha (27 May 2015). "Dennis Skinner explains lack of Queen's speech quip: 'I was fighting Scots Nats'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  51. ^ "Appointment to the post of Black Rod". Parliament of the United Kingdom. 17 December 2008. Archived from the original on 18 June 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2009.
  52. ^ "BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Black Rod: 'I shall miss you Dennis'". Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  53. ^ "Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech jokes". Retrieved 5 April 2017.
  54. ^ "Skinner's 'recession' heckle angers Tory MPs". BBC News. 9 May 2012.
  55. ^ Neate, Rupert (9 May 2013). "Royal Mail sale: ministers set to go where Thatcher feared to tread". Guardian. London.
  56. ^ UK, The Huffington Post (4 June 2014). "Watch Dennis Skinner's Queen's Speech Heckle: 'Coalition's Last Stand'". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  57. ^ "Dennis Skinner-SNP battle left me too tired to heckle during Queens speech". The Telegraph. 27 May 2015.
  58. ^ "Dennis Skinner zings the Queen's Speech by shouting 'Hands off the BBC!'". Mirror. 18 May 2016. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  59. ^ "Queen's Speech: Dennis Skinner's top heckles". New Statesman. 21 June 2017. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  60. ^ "Theresa May cancels 2018 Queen's Speech to give more time to push through Brexit laws". The Independent. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  61. ^ Dennis Skinner, Member for Bolsover (17 January 1977). "DEATH OF THE EARL OF AVON". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons.
  62. ^ a b c Saul, Heather (18 May 2016). "Dennis Skinner visits care homes to sing to patients with dementia". The Independent. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  63. ^ Turner, Matthew (8 September 2017). "Dennis Skinner: Nature of the Beast review: a moving and surprising portrait of the man". i. Retrieved 12 September 2017.

External links

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
Succeeded by