Dennis Skinner trolls the Queen

Josie Long nominates an unusual tradition as one of her favourite things.

In the Christmas issue of the New Statesman, comedian Josie Long nominates her favourite things of the year. One of them is this YouTube video, "Dennis Skinner trolls the Queen".

It's become an annual tradition for the Bolsover MP to heckle when Black Rod - resplendent in dark tights, and sent by the monarch - requests that MPs join him in the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament. (By tradition, the Queen cannot enter the Commons.)

Mostly, Skinner goes for laughs. In 1998 he went for: "Ey up, here comes Puss in Boots". In 2006, he shouted: "Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?"

In 2008, he asked: "Any Tory moles at the palace?" - a reference to the arrest of Tory MP Damian Green on suspicion of receiving confidential information from a civil servant. 

But this year, he went with some more edgy material, shouting: "Jubilee year, double dip recession, what a start."

Tory MPs responded with cries of "shame!"

You can see an impressively full list of Skinner's heckles on Wikipedia.

Black Rod at the Opening of Parliament. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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