Dennis Skinner

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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
Majority5,288 (11.4%)
Personal details
Dennis Edward Skinner

(1932-02-11) 11 February 1932 (age 87)
Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England
Political party Labour
Other political
Socialist Campaign Group
Mary Parker
(m. 1960;separated 1989)
Domestic partnerLois Blasenheim
Relations4 (grandchildren)
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 one year from 1988 to 1989 and served as a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, with brief breaks, for thirty years. [2]

The Labour Party is a centre-left political party in the United Kingdom that has been described as an alliance of social democrats, democratic socialists and trade unionists. The party's platform emphasises greater state intervention, social justice and strengthening workers' rights.

Member of Parliament (United Kingdom) Voters representative in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, Member of Parliament (MP) is the title given to individuals elected to serve in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Bolsover (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom, 1950 onwards

Bolsover, and commonly is a constituency in Derbyshire, represented in the House of Commons of the UK Parliament. The constituency was created in 1950, and as its name suggests, is focused on the town of Bolsover.


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]

The Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs, often known as the Campaign Group, is a left-wing, democratic socialist grouping of Labour Party Members of Parliament in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. It was formed in December 1982 as an alternative Parliamentary left-wing group to the Tribune Group. The Campaign Group, as it is commonly known, is often considered on the hard left of the Labour Party and has been highly critical of New Labour.

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]

Clay Cross town and civil parish in North East Derbyshire, England

Clay Cross is a town and a civil parish in the North East Derbyshire district of Derbyshire, England. It is a former industrial and mining town, about 5 miles (8.0 km) south of Chesterfield. It is directly on the A61, the former Roman road Ryknield Street. Surrounding settlements include North Wingfield, Tupton, Pilsley and Ashover.

Derbyshire ceremonial county in East Midlands, England

Derbyshire is a county in the East Midlands of England. A substantial portion of the Peak District National Park lies within Derbyshire, containing the southern extremity of the Pennine range of hills which extend into the north of the county. The county contains part of the National Forest, and borders on Greater Manchester to the northwest, West Yorkshire to the north, South Yorkshire to the northeast, Nottinghamshire to the east, Leicestershire to the southeast, Staffordshire to the west and southwest and Cheshire also to the west. Kinder Scout, at 636 metres (2,087 ft), is the highest point in the county, whilst Trent Meadows, where the River Trent leaves Derbyshire, is its lowest point at 27 metres (89 ft). The River Derwent is the county's longest river at 66 miles (106 km), and runs roughly north to south through the county. In 2003 the Ordnance Survey placed Church Flatts Farm at Coton in the Elms as the furthest point from the sea in Great Britain.

1926 United Kingdom general strike May 1926 UK labour dispute

The 1926 general strike in the United Kingdom was a general strike that lasted nine days, from 3 May 1926 to 12 May 1926. It was called by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in an unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. Some 1.7 million workers went out, especially in transport and heavy industry. The government was prepared and enlisted middle class volunteers to maintain essential services. There was little violence and the TUC gave up in defeat. Though nine days in, the TUC leadership knew 'the government could hold out longer than the workers', it was perceived at the time as a 'brilliant failure'. According to a leading TUC researcher, Walter Milne-Bailey, 'There has never been a more amazing display of labour solidarity and the effect of such a demonstration must inevitably be deep and enduring. Workers have learnt a new sense of their oneness and their power.' In the 1929 general election, the Labour Party won more seats than any other party in Parliament for the first time in its history.

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]

Tupton Hall School

Tupton Hall School is a secondary school in Chesterfield. It is one of the largest secondary schools in the North East Derbyshire district, with a large body of students and one of the largest sixth forms in the county.

The eleven-plus (11-plus) is an examination administered to some students in England and Northern Ireland in their last year of primary education, which governs admission to grammar schools and other secondary schools which use academic selection. The name derives from the age group for secondary entry: 11–12 years.

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]

National Union of Mineworkers (Great Britain) trade union for coal miners in the United Kingdom

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is a trade union for coal miners in Great Britain, formed in 1945 from the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB). The NUM took part in three national miners' strikes, in 1972, 1974 and 1984–85. After the 1984–85 strike and the subsequent closure of most of Britain's coal mines, it became a much smaller union. It had around 170,000 members when Arthur Scargill became leader in 1981, a figure which had fallen in 2015 to an active membership of around 100.

Derbyshire County Council British administrative body

Derbyshire County Council is the upper-tier local authority for the non-metropolitan county of Derbyshire, England. It has 64 councillors representing 61 divisions, with three divisions having two members each. They are Glossop and Charlesworth, Alfreton and Somercotes, and Eckington and Killamarsh. The authority is controlled by the Conservative Party, who won control in the May 2017 local council election.

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]

Ruskin College independent educational institution in Oxford, England

Ruskin College, originally known as Ruskin Hall, Oxford, is an independent educational institution in Oxford, England. It is named after the essayist and social critic John Ruskin (1819–1900) and specialises in providing educational opportunities for adults with few or no qualifications. The college is an affiliate of the University of Oxford; this relationship allows students special privileges such as attending lectures and the use of most facilities.

University of Sheffield university in England, United Kingdom

The University of Sheffield is a public research university in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It received its royal charter in 1905 as successor to the University College of Sheffield, which was established in 1897 by the merger of Sheffield Medical School, Firth College (1879) and Sheffield Technical School (1884).

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 Dennis Skinner, 2016 Labour Party Conference.jpg
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:

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]

1980NoneSkinner 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]
2015NoneSkinner 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]

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 [60] - "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 [61] with Alzheimer's disease prior to her death [62] in the 1980s. [61] 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. [61]

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  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. Dennis Skinner, Member for Bolsover (17 January 1977). "DEATH OF THE EARL OF AVON". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) . United Kingdom: House of Commons.
  61. 1 2 3 Saul, Heather (18 May 2016). "Dennis Skinner visits care homes to sing to patients with dementia". The Independent . Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  62. 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.
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