Dennis Skinner's best Queen's Speech jokes

"Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised," the Labour MP declared today. We collect his most memorable bon mots from previous years.

Dennis Skinner's republican quips during the State Opening of Parliament have become part of our unwritten constitution. Today, as Black Rod summoned MPs to hear the monarch in the House of Lords (by tradition, the Queen cannot enter the Commons), he declared: "Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised."

So, in tribute to the Beast of Bolsover's verbal agility, here's a selection of some his most memorable bon mots from previous years. 

1990

Skinner quipped: "It tolls for thee, Maggie", a reference to Margaret Thatcher's imminent resignation as prime minister.

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

2000

Skinner shouted, "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 remarked: "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."

2012

"Jubilee year, double dip recession, what a start," shouted Skinner, prompting cries of "shame!" from Tory MPs. 

Labour MP Dennis Skinner in full flow.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.