Labour MP for the constituency of Bolsover, Derbyshire, since 1970. His 33 years in Parliament to date have been characterised by two defining traits - his razor-sharp wit, and his unbending socialist principles. His constant heckling of Government leaders has won him admiration and loathing in equal measure from his Parliamentary colleagues, and a substantial amount of notoriety with the general public.
Born on the 11th Feb, 1932, in Derbyshire, Dennis was the third of miner Edward Skinner's nine children. Although he was a star student at his local grammar school, Dennis chose to follow his father into the pits at the age of 17. By the time he was 34, he'd been elected president of the Derbyshire miners, and four years later, he was selected to succeed Harold Neal as the Labour candidate for the staunchly left-wing constituency of Bolsover.
The Beast Of Bolsover
Skinner's early years in Parliament were largely spent promoting the interests of the miners. When not promoting coal, he was either bashing OPEC, or making himself unpopular with the more moderate elements in the Labour party by loudly espousing his hard left beliefs, using his preferred method of mercilessly heckling speakers in the Commons. It was during this period that he earned the nickname of "The Beast Of Bolsover", given to him by fellow Labour MP Andrew Faulds, after being on the receiving end of a scathing Skinner volley concerning Faulds' pro-oil lobbying.
It was during Margaret Thatcher's lengthy tenure as Prime Minister that Skinner became a household name. Although they were complete political opposites (Thatcher being the ultimate nemesis of the miners), they had a very similar approach to political debate and soon established a Parliamentary double act, with Skinner's heckles and Thatcher's rebuffs often providing the best political debate in the emasculated debating chamber. Skinner even contributed to her final bow in Parliament as PM, as Andrew Rawnsley wrote -
Asked whether, in retirement, she would still oppose a European central bank, Mr Skinner fed her a line, shouting: "No, she's goin' to be the Guv'nor."
"What a good idea!" she cried, to swelling cheers. "I'm enjoying this," she said, doing little bows.
Skinner also used to enjoy mercilessly taunting Roy Jenkins, who had the misfortune to sit directly behind Skinner on the Opposition benches. As ex-Plaid Cymru MP Dafydd Wigley recalled -
Dennis Skinner has brilliant timing in his heckling. Jenkins was a great user of the pregnant pause - presumably adding gravitas to his comments. These pauses would be immediately filled by a Skinner retort.
Skinner's star waned somewhat during John Major's administration, largely because the Tory government were by now far better at lampooning themselves than Dennis ever was. But Skinner now had another adversary to repeatedly interrupt, in the form of Tony Blair. Skinner was instantly weary of Blair's zealous reforming zeal, and has fiercely resisted the Labour Party's drift to the centre ground of the political spectrum. He rebelled more than any other Labour MP between 1992 and 1997, and remains one of only a handful of the current Parliamentary Labour Party members who proudly calls himself a socialist.
Recently, ill health has prevented Skinner from being quite as vocal as usual, but he was a vociferous critic of the Government's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and plans to stand for election again at the next General Election.
"I see Tony Blair from time to time and I explain things that need to be done." - Dennis Skinner