Dennis Skinner

Dennis Skinner

Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover since 1970, the Chairman of the Labour Party from 1988 to 1989, and has sat on the National Executive Committee numerous times since 1978.

Born in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, Skinner is the third of nine children of the miner Edward Skinner, who was sacked after the 1926 general strike.[1] He worked as a miner for over 20 years, in the course of which he became a NUM leader and Clay Cross Labour Party councillor. He is known for his left-wing views, acid tongue and for never missing a Commons session.

He is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.


Early life

Born in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, Skinner was educated at Tupton Grammar School (now Tupton Hall School) after passing the Eleven-plus a year early.[2] The Bolsover area was formerly dominated by coal mining, and Skinner was a miner from 1949 to 1970, first at Parkhouse Colliery in Clay Cross until 1962, when it closed, and then at Glapwell Colliery near Chesterfield. He joined the Labour Party in 1956.

Union and political career

He was a councillor on Derbyshire County Council from 1964 to 1970, and a Clay Cross councillor from 1960 to 1970. He was leader of the Derbyshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers between 1966 and 1970. He attended Ruskin College in 1967 after doing a preparatory course run by the NUM at the University of Sheffield.

Skinner was elected MP for the Labour safe-seat of Bolsover in the 1970 general election. He has held the seat ever since. On taking his seat, he undertook publicly to stand down from Parliament at the age of 65 (therefore in 1997), just as he would have retired had he remained as a miner; this was so that he would not be 'taking another man's job'. He has, however, since stood and been re-elected in 4 General Elections. He was a strong supporter of the National Union of Mineworkers and its then leader Arthur Scargill in the 1984-85 miners' strike. Skinner remains loyal to the policies on which he originally was elected into office, reflected by his membership of the Socialist Campaign Group.

Skinner takes a liberal stance regarding social issues: he voted in favour of equalisation of the age of consent, civil partnerships, adoption rights for same-sex couples, and to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.[3] Furthermore, throughout his career he has maintained a strongly pro-choice stance on abortion. On several occasions he has enabled the defeat of moves to reduce the number of weeks at which the operation can be legally performed in Britain by talking out the measure (filibustering) as on January 20, 1989, when he held up proceedings by trying to move a writ for a by-election in the constituency of Richmond, which was incidentally won by later Conservative leader William Hague.[4]

In 2003, he 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 March 2007, Skinner with 88 other Labour MPs also voted against government policy to renew the Trident Nuclear Missile System.

He is known for his republican (i.e., anti-monarchist) sentiments.


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

  • In 1992, referring to the Minister of Agriculture John Gummer as "slimy" and a "wart".
  • In 1995, accusing the government of a "crooked deal" to sell off Britain's coal mines.
  • On 8 December 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).[5]
  • On 20 April 2006, accusing Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst of leniency towards remarks made by opposition frontbencher Theresa May "because she's a Tory".[6][7]

Queen's Speech jokes

Skinner has traditionally cracked jokes, usually about the Royal Family, 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 Commons) to summon MPs to hear the Queen's speech in the House of Lords. The best known, according to the New Statesman and other sources, are as follows:[8]

  • In 1987, he said "Tell her to sell up!", a reference to the tightening of belts in the United Kingdom.
  • In 1990, he quipped "It tolls for thee Maggie", a reference to Margaret Thatcher's impending departure.
  • In 1991, on arrival of Black Rod quipping "I bet he drinks Carling Black Label"; a reference to an advertising campaign at the time.[9]
  • In 1992, he said to Black Rod "Tell her to pay her taxes"; at the time, this was an important political issue.
  • In 1997, he shouted "New Labour, New Black Rod".[10] A reference to Labour's election campaign slogan "New Labour, New Britain".
  • In 2000, he shouted out "Tell her to read the Guardian!" - the Guardian newspaper was campaigning at the time to repeal various laws relating to the monarchy.
  • In 2001, he said to new Black Rod Michael Willcocks "You're nowt but a midget!!" to much laughter in the chamber.
  • In 2003, he 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.
  • In 2006, Skinner responded to Black Rod's invitation with "Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?", in reference to the portrayal by Helen Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen. The BBC political commentator Huw Edwards called the quip "cheap but funny".
  • In 2007, he asked "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.
  • In 2008, he asked, "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.[11]
  • In 2009, he stated "Royal Expenses are on the way", a reference to the parliamentary expenses scandal.[12]
  • In 2010, he stated "No royal commissions this week" in 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 the Yeoman Usher's (who was filling in for an ill Black Rod) speech. To which the Yeoman Usher replyed at the end, "Thank you, Dennis".

Commons Attendance

He often tells of turning up for work at his colliery after he had been elected as an MP, refusing to see this as his new occupation. This is the reason Skinner gives for refusing to miss any sitting in the House of Commons, saying that "if you missed a shift at the pit, you would get the sack". He also refuses to adopt the pairing system in which he can agree a mutual abstention with a Conservative MP, saying he won't cover for them whilst they "go swanning off to Ascot or to their boardrooms". In the 2004-2005 sitting of the House he claimed the least expenses for an MP who served the full year.[13] He has never been a member of an All-Party Parliamentary Group; does not eat alongside parliamentary colleagues in the Commons dining room; does not take trips or holidays 'paid for' by others; never drinks 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.

Usually sitting 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 distinctive 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, many of which are in his view archaic and contemptible. He was once described by the "Bagehot" opinion column in The Economist as a "hard-left oddball".[14]

Personal life

He married Mary Parker in 1960. They had one son (born 1962 and also called Dennis) and two daughters (Dawn born 1960 and Mandy born 1966). He separated from her in 1989. A few years later he moved in with his American researcher, Lois Blasenheim. He underwent a double heart bypass operation in March 2003 at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London and has had bladder cancer. He lives in South Normanton in his constituency.


  1. Roth, Andrew (2001-03-26). . The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-06-09. 
  2. . London: The Independent. 1992-12-12. Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  3. . Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  4. . Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  5. Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (2005-12-08). . Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  6. "Skinner thrown out of the Commons - again", The Guardian, 20 April 2006.
  7. Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (2006-04-20). . Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  9. . BBC News. 10 August 1999. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  10. . London: Daily Telegraph. 18 May 2007. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  11. . Parliament of the United Kingdom. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-27. 
  12. . 18 November 2009. Event occurs at 5:15. 
  13. Assinder, Nick (2005-10-31). . BBC. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  14. . The Economist. 2005-04-28. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 

News items

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Harold Neal
Member of Parliament for Bolsover
Political offices
Preceded by
Neil Kinnock
Chair of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Jo Richardson