Dennis Skinner’s best Queen’s Speech jokes

The finest republican quips by the Beast of Bolsover.

Dennis Skinner's republican quips during the State Opening of Parliament have become as much of a tradition as the rest of the occasion.

Today, as the Yeoman of the Guard (Black Rod is ill) summoned MPs to hear the Queen's Speech in the "other place", the Labour MP joked: "No royal commissions this week," a none-too-subtle reference to Sarah Ferguson's unfortunate offer of access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, in exchange for cash.

So, in tribute to the Beast of Bolsover's verbal agility, here is a selection of his finest Queen's Speech jokes from the past two decades.

1990

Skinner quipped: "It tolls for thee, Maggie", a reference to Margaret Thatcher's imminent departure.

1992

As pressure grew on the Queen to pay tax on her personal income, Skinner ordered Black Rod: "Tell her to pay her taxes."

1997

Skinner cried out: "New Labour, New Black Rod", an adaptation of the campaign slogan "New Labour, New Britain".

2000

Skinner shouted out, "Tell her to read the Guardian" after the newspaper launched a new campaign calling for Britain to become a republic.

2003

Following a series of break-ins at Buckingham Palace, Skinner asked: "Did she lock the door behind her?"

2006

In reference to the new film The Queen, Skinner asked Black Rod: "Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?"

2007

After two protected hen harriers were shot dead on the royal family's Sandringham estate, Skinner cried out: "Who shot the harriers?" Prince Harry was questioned by the police but no charges were brought.

2008

Skinner quipped: "Any Tory moles at the palace?", a reference to the recent arrest of the Tory MP Damian Green in connection with Home Office leaks.

2009

As Black Rod arrived in the Commons, Skinner joked: "Royal expenses are on the way."

PS: If you missed it at the time, you can read our special anti-monarchy issue in full here.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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There are two sides to the Muslim segregation story

White families must also be prepared to have Muslim neighbours. 

Dame Louise Casey finally published her review on social integration in Britain. Although it mentions all communities, there is a clear focus on Muslim communities. However, the issues she raises - religious conservatism, segregation in some areas and Muslim women experiencing inequalities -  are not new. In this case, they have been placed in one report and discussed in the context of hindering integration. If we are truly committed to addressing these issues, though, we have a duty of care to discuss the findings with nuance, not take them out of context, as some tabloids have already done.

The review, for example, highlights that in some areas Muslims make up 85 per cent of the local population. This should not be interpreted to mean that Muslims are choosing to isolate themselves and not integrate. For a start, the review makes it clear that there are also certain areas in Britain that are predominantly Sikh, Hindu or Jewish.

Secondly, when migrants arrive in the UK, it is not unreasonable for them to gravitate towards people from similar cultural and faith backgrounds.  Later, they may choose to remain in these same areas due to convenience, such as being able to buy their own food, accessing their place of worship or being near elderly relatives.

However, very little, if any, attention is given to the role played by white families in creating segregated communities. These families moved out of such areas after the arrival of ethnic minorities. This isn't necessarily due to racism, but because such families are able to afford to move up the housing ladder. And when they do move, perhaps they feel more comfortable living with people of a similar background to themselves. Again, this is understandable, but it highlights that segregation is a two-way street. Such a phenomenon cannot be prevented or reversed unless white families are also willing to have Muslim neighbours. Is the government also prepared to have these difficult conversations?

Casey also mentions inequalities that are holding some Muslim women back, inequalities driven by misogyny, cultural abuses, not being able to speak English and the high numbers of Muslim women who are economically inactive. It’s true that the English language is a strong enabler of integration. It can help women engage better with their children, have access to services and the jobs market, and be better informed about their rights.

Nevertheless, we should remember that first-generation Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, who could not speak English, have proved perfectly able to bring up children now employed in a vast range of professions including politics, medicine, and the law. The cultural abuses mentioned in the review such as forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation, are already being tackled by government. It would be more valuable to see the government challenge the hate crimes and discrimination regularly faced by Muslim women when trying to access public services and the jobs market. 

The review recommends an "Oath of Integration with British Values and Society" for immigrants on arrival. This raises the perennial question of what "British Values" are. The Casey review uses the list from the government’s counter-extremism strategy. In reality, the vast majority of individuals, regardless of faith or ethnic background, would agree to sign up to them.  The key challenge for any integration strategy is to persuade all groups to practice these values every day, rather than just getting immigrants to read them out once. 

Shaista Gohir is the chair of Muslim Women's Network UK, and Sophie Garner is the general secretary and a barrister.