Thursday, 24 November 2016

Rapid Reviews: Sailing Close To The Wind by Dennis Skinner, MP

Labour MP for Bolsover since 1970, Dennis Skinner finally succumbed to demand and wrote his reminiscences of a life in politics in 2014. It wasn't something he wanted to do, believing he is a more skillful communicator with the spoken word via public oration, and admits that it was hard to write; "I hope it turns out alright" he says in the acknowledgements. Well, I can assure him and you that it most certainly has turned out alright - the humour, passion and dedicated commitment of the man shines through on every page. At a time when politics seem to be dominated by right wing nutjobs and centre-ground squatting squirts who are simply careerists, it's good to know that Skinner still fights for what he believes, for the rights of the working class men and women of his constituency and, in turn, his country.

I've read many political memoirs in my time, but this has to be one of the funniest and warmest. It reads like a barroom chat with and old friend you hold in the greatest regard and respect. Here's one of the funniest passages;

'Norman Tebbit was an uppity backbencher before Thatcher stuck him in the Cabinet. Tommy Swain, a fellow ex-miner from Derbyshire, was sitting opposite Tebbit (in the House of Commons) who was muttering away. I didn't catch precisely what Tebbit said but, looking at Tommy, he'd said something like "The old man's turned up for once" in a clear dig. 

"What did he say?" asked Tommy

"He called you a bastard," I answered to wind up Tommy. He cursed Tebbit, then a few moments later I heard: 

"Tebbit's said something else - what was it?"

"He's called you a bastard again, Tommy"

Tommy wasn't happy.Tommy shouted at Tebbit that he wanted a word and Tebbit, the silly sod, got up to speak to him. I was thinking what a fool Tebbit was when Tommy pounced at the back of the chamber. I can see the pair now: Tommy holding Tebbit by the tie with one hand, Tommy's other hand screwed into a menacing fist in Tebbit's face. The two of them were near the heavy double doors into the Member's Lobby so beyond what's known  as the bar of the House and officially out of chamber. The Speaker was unable to save Tebbit from a pasting if Tommy wasn't appeased. Bernard Weatherill, then a Tory whip and later himself a Speaker, saw what was going on and rushed over. Tommy complained that Tebbit was bad-mouthing him and Weatherill told Tebbit to apologise. I saw Tommy later with a piece of paper in his hand. It was a letter of apology from Tebbit!  I don't know what Tebbit said exactly but I must have been nearer the truth than I imagined'

Two things strike me about that particular anecdote; one, is that it's the kind of thing my late grandfather (who bore a passing resemblance to Skinner and was an ex-miner himself) would have done. He enjoyed a good leg pull. And the second is that it really couldn't have happened to a nicer person than Norman Tebbit, a loathsome hard hearted man who enjoyed his role as Thatcher's hatchet man, destroying the lives of millions of Britons throughout the 1980s and remains unrepentant to this day. I'd have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that moment; Tommy Swain might have been over 60 by that stage but as a miner and a former fairground boxer, he could have done Tebbit some serious damage!

Dennis Skinner remains one of a kind, and in many ways that's a great shame. However, we can be grateful that he continues to fight the good fight against the likes of the Tories and UKIP at 84. Long may he continue.


  1. You should write to him Mark c/o The House Of Commons and ask him if he'd do a quick Q&A for your blog. You'll kick yourself if you don't.

    1. Funny you should say that as interviews are something I'm just about to dip my toe in (albeit for another site) Nothing confirmed yet, but fingers crossed. Anyway, that's a very interesting notion, but I'm not sure exactly what I'd say/ask and I'd worry I'd be wasting his time