Skinner in 2011
|Chairman of the National Executive Committee|
13 June 1988 – 27 October 1989
|Preceded by||Neil Kinnock|
|Succeeded by||Jo Richardson|
|Member of Parliament|
18 June 1970 – 6 November 2019
|Preceded by||Harold Neal|
|Succeeded by||Mark Fletcher|
Dennis Edward Skinner
11 February 1932
Clay Cross, Derbyshire, England
|Socialist Campaign Group (1982–2019)|
(m. 1960; separated 1989)
|Domestic partner||Lois Blasenheim|
|Alma mater||Ruskin College, University of Sheffield|
Known for his left-wing views and his acerbic wit, he belonged to the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. He was a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, with brief breaks, for thirty years, and was the chairman of the Committee in 1988/89. On 16 December 2017 he became the longest continuously-serving Labour MP.
Early life and careerEdit
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 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 Chesterfield.
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, Oxford, 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 first elected as MP for the then safe Labour seat of Bolsover at the 1970 general election and retained it until 2019. He 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[clarification needed] for the Richmond by-election. On 7 June 1985, he talked out a bill by Enoch Powell which would have banned stem cell research by moving the writ[clarification needed] for the by-election in Brecon and Radnor. Skinner later described this as his proudest political moment.
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 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. 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. 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."
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 by a very small margin. In March 2011, he was one of 15 MPs who voted against British participation in NATO's Libya intervention.
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 returned to the NEC. 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 in December 2015.
Following the retirement of Peter Tapsell in 2015, Skinner was one of three longest-serving MPs but did not become Father of the House as Gerald Kaufman and Kenneth Clarke, who were also first elected in 1970, had been sworn in as MPs earlier. Skinner stated in 2015 that he would not accept the honorific title. Following Kaufman's death in 2017, Skinner had been the oldest MP.
- 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 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 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 quipsEdit
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 never attended the Queen's Speech.|
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. He is known as 'the Beast of Bolsover': 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 - "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".
Nature of the Beast documentaryEdit
The first documentary about Dennis Skinner sanctioned by him, 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.
In 1960 Skinner married Mary Parker. The couple have three children, all of whom 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.
In 1999 Skinner was diagnosed with advanced bladder cancer and subsequently had surgery to remove a malignant tumour. In 2003 he recovered from a double heart bypass operation. He underwent hip surgery in 2019.
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.
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- Laurie Taylor, 'Tatchell Man's first test', The Times (22 February 1983), p. 8.
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- "House of Commons Friday 20 January 1989 The House met at half-past Nine o'clock". www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 4 October 2008.
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- Chacko, Ben (12 May 2019). "Blair is a 'destructive force' intent on 'destroying' Labour, Skinner warns". morningstaronline.co.uk. Archived from the original on 18 May 2019. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
- "Trident vote: Labour rebels". BBC News. BBC. 14 March 2007. Archived from the original on 22 March 2007. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Dennis Skinner|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dennis Skinner.|
- 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
- Profile at Westminster Parliamentary Record
- Biography at Stuart Thomson
- Contact details at This Is Derbyshire
- on YouTube on the on 's channelYouTube
- This much I know, Skinner runs down some matters of importance to him, hosted by The Guardian
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Giving George Osborne a line of wit in December 2005
- Junction 29A in December 2004
- Heart bypass in March 2003
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Bolsover
|Party political offices|
| Chairman of the Labour Party
| Oldest sitting Member of Parliament
|Trade union offices|
| President of the Derbyshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers