Thursday, December 07, 2006

The mark of the Beast

In a comment on the previous post, "Guardian Reader" questions the choice of Dennis Skinner as one of my least favourite MPs, saying: "I don't understand why you consider Dennis Skinner to be part of a deeply unpleasant Derbyshire old [Labour] mafia."

"I agree that he is not the national treasure that he seems to have become, and I worry that his lack of engagement in his constituency is akin to Tony Benn's similar disregard of Chesterfield - notably lost to the Liberal Democrats once he left. (Will Bolsover suffer the same fate?)

"However, when you consider the Derbyshire Labour MPs, I can't think of a single one who could be considered old Labour or mafia. That's not to say they're all Blairites, by the way.

"If you mean the councillors in North Derbyshire, you might have a point; but to be fair to Dennis he only criticises Labour within the party, not in public - which is more than can be said about MPs such as Charles Clarke!"

Well, the answer to the question why I consider Skinner to be part of a "deeply unpleasant Derbyshire Old Labour mafia" relates to an old story dating back to a General Election campaign in the 1970s which deserves to be retold in full.

A group of Labour activists were out canvassing for Skinner on a bleak estate outside Clay Cross when the following doorstep exchange took place.

Canvasser: "Own this 'ouse, do yer?"
Voter: "No, it's rented."
Canvasser: "Council 'ouse, is it?"
Voter: "Yes, that's right."
Canvasser: "Wanna keep yer council 'ouse?"
Voter: "Well, yes, 'course I do."
Canvasser: "Well then fookin' vote Labour."

I doubt if the said canvasser was actually Skinner himself, or even his equally obstreperous brother David, a former road-ganger who was later awarded a job by Labour-run Derbyshire County Council as cultural attache to Japan. But it was on such Old Labour thuggery that his political career was built.

There are probably plenty of other Labour MPs of whom the same could be said. But unlike Skinner, none of them have managed to fool the public into thinking they are some nice, cuddly old socialist.

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Snafu said...

Canvasser: "Wanna buy yer council 'ouse?"
Voter: "Well, yes, 'course I do."
Canvasser: "Well then fookin' vote Tory"

David Gladwin said...

Canvasser: "Wanna afford yer council tax?"
Voter: "Well, yes, 'course I do."
Canvasser: "Well then don't fookin' vote Labour"

stalin's gran said...

Wanna not be able to afford the mortgage on your fookin council house (ie lose it) - then vote fookin Tory, c 1992

MorrisOx said...

Damn fine post, Linford, and in no sense apocryphal.

It is thanks to the likes of the Skinners that North Derbyshire had distinct echoes of some of the Soviet republics just before the collapse of Communism.

Even today, it is still trying to overcome the legacy of a spiteful, myopic, dim-witted and frequently bullying clique that turned it into an investment no-go zone.

Up the road in Sheffield they at least did the Socialist Republic thing with some imagination.

skipper said...

Early on in my career as a lecturer in Manchester Uni's Extra-Mural Dept I fixed for the Beast's brother to come and give us a sample of his rhetoric at a meeting involving a reasonably large audience. He did not turn up and it was my first esperience of a truly pearshaped event in which an audience was comprehansively let down. So I have no fond memories of the Skinner family.

Paul Linford said...


I used to think it was an apocryphal story, but I have in fact now heard it from two completely unrelated sources, and that's good enough for me!

Harry Barnes said...

You condemn Dennis Skinner over a canvassing story relating to the 1970s on an estate said to be outside of Clay Cross. You then, however,accept that Dennis wasn't involved. There is another problem with the story. Anyone canvassing for Dennis in the 1970s would not be doing it in Clay Cross or its neighbouring area. These all then fell into the area of the North East Derbyshire Constituency which was respresented by Tom Swain up to his death in 1979. Dennis represents the Bolsover Constituency - which you need for purposes on illiteration.
I don't know if I qualify for having been part of your "deeply unpleasant Derbyshire Old Mafia", but if it puts me alongside Dennis then it is a badge of honour.

Bob Piper said...

Well said, Harry. A supposed conversation that is deemed true because two people have repeated it. Totally scurrilous and quite what we have come to expect from certain sections of the labour right. I'm not from Derbyshire, but if standing alongside Dennis makes me part of the "mafia"... I'm in!

Paul Linford said...

Well, it's nice to see ex-MPs visiting my blog. All I can say to Harry - and it may disappoint him - is no, I never regarded him as part of the unpleasant Derbyshire Old Labour mafia of which I spoke. It is true that he did allow himself occasionally to become an apologist for the deeply corrupt Labour administration on Derbyshire County Council from 1981-92 but apart from that, his parliamentary career showed him to be both a man of integrity and an indefatigable campaigner on behalf of his constituents.

Harry Barnes said...


Modesty should forbid me from responding,but you obviously have a hang up about David Bookbinder as well as Dennis Skinner. I interviewed David for the October 1981 issue of Labour Leader in an article entitled "Derbyshire Makes a Stand". My first article for that paper was related to the Clay Cross Rent Rebellion and appeared in October 1975 called "Socialist Muggers". But it did not back your theory about the Skinners et al - quite the opposite.
The title was a twist on a shoddy comment by a jounalist peddling a similar line to your own on the Clay Cross Labour Party - a certain Bernard Levin. That was the decade that was.

Paul Linford said...


Re Bookbinder, not a hang-up exactly, more a sense of deep disappointment. As I wrote in the Derby Evening Telegraph in '92, he should have gone down in history as a working class hero. Instead he ended up betraying the very people he was elected to serve, axeing the entire school music service rather than put 5p on the price of school meals, and thereby ensuring that the only people who learned how to play instruments in Derbyshire after 1991 were those that could afford to pay for them privately. To me, this was a perfect demonstration of a far-fetched resolution that was pickled into a code and ended in grotesque chaos.

I could go on...