AS new MPs flex their muscles in the House of Commons, one of the old ones showed them how it’s done this week.
Dennis Skinner, once nicknamed the “beast of Bolsover”, first entered the House of Commons in 1970. He quickly established a reputation as an independently minded colourful left-winger.
His brilliant use of humour to convey his message, together with his blunt working-class Derbyshire tones made him more famous than many a high-flying Cabinet Minister.
Nevertheless he is hugely respected in the House of Commons, even by Tories who he has ruthlessly ridiculed for the last 35 years.
He was particularly cruel to Cecil Parkinson the former Tory MP who resigned over his private life. Parkinson had a habit of speaking at the Despatch Box with one hand in his pocket.
“Stop playing with yourself” bellowed the beast across the chamber.
Poor Parkinson did not know whether to remove his hand in embarrassment, or leave it there and attract more quips, so he was left frozen in fear mid-sentence.
When I met Bernard Weatherill, the former Conservative Deputy Chief Whip and Speaker of the House, he said some MPs used to complain that he called Dennis so much in the Chamber.
He replied “but he’s always there”.
And he is.
No-one is a more consistent and assiduous attendee in the chamber.
Although he may have mellowed a little in recent years Dennis was back on top form again this week when he suggested that, in relation to the European Constitution, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw should send to President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder a copy of Monty Python’s dead parrot sketch.
It was a typical Dennis Skinner moment using humour to make a serious point, and as ever it was his comments that get into the press.