Politics Magazine

The Beast of Bolsover is Not Beaten

Posted on the 03 July 2014 by Thepoliticalidealist @JackDarrant

To the shock of most of the Labour movement, the 82 year-old backbencher Dennis Skinner, was last night voted off Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), one of the most powerful institutions in the party. Skinner, a former miner and now vocal backbencher, has represented Bolsover in Parliament since 1970, and remains widely popular for someone seen as belonging to the ‘old left’ of the party. His populist, sometimes edgy interventions in parliamentary debates has earned him the fond nickname “the Beast of Bolsover”.

dennis skinnerThe Beast of Bolsover

Under Labour rules, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) elects three representatives to the NEC, by means of an annual secret ballot. Skinner has held one of these seats for most years since 1978, despite his ideological differences with the majority of the PLP. That

is why his defeat is being viewed by some as an attack on the Labour left. It has even been alleged that the leadership intervened to remove him from the NEC. Neither of these claims are true.

It should be noted that Skinner has lost his NEC seat not once, but twice before. He was defeated both in 1992 and 1998. In the latter year, Tony Blair seemed genuinely dismayed at the defeat, and saw that his loyalists restored Skinner to the NEC the following year. Judging by the horror with which many Blairites have reacted to the election result this time, it looks perfectly likely that Skinner can make a third comeback, should he want to.

However, it’s curious that Miliband’s reaction should be so lukewarm. Unlike Blair 15 years ago, Miliband doesn’t seem to mind the loss of Skinner to the NEC. The Labour leadership’s only response has been to say “its a PLP issue”, as if the leadership doesn’t habitually meddle in the affairs of its backbench. I suspect that it could be partly explained by fear of Tory attacks: Ed Miliband, supposedly on the Labour left (hmm) cannot afford to cosy up the an ‘Old Labour’ figure as Blair could. The ‘Red Ed’ claptrap would be stirred up once more. Also, Skinner is no longer the asset to the leadership in placating Labour’s left wing as he once was.

Or, maybe Skinner backed the wrong Miliband. In the 2010 leadership election, he surprised many of us by endorsing right-wing ‘Mili-D’ over ‘Mili-E’. Does that annoy the victor? We don’t know.

Anyhow, many radicals in the Labour fold have reacted with intense anger to Skinner’s defeat, regardless of its cause. A few people have said that they won’t vote for Labour when it has shown its ‘true colours’. Not only will that make little difference (a few hundred more Green and TUSC votes won’t harm Labour) but it misses the point. Dennis Skinner could well be restored to the NEC in 2015, but by then he will be 83. He may fight on for ‘true Labour values’ until 2020. But nobody can continue forever: eventually (and let us hope it’s a long, long time), he will retire from Parliament. His supporters should note that, although the Beast of Bolsover has much to offer yet, they must also look to the future. Where’s the new blood?

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