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Dennis Skinner warns SNP MPs trying to take his seat: “This is one victory – it will be a battle”

Green with bench envy.

Other than shattering the very foundations of Scottish political life, the SNP is causing a stir elsewhere. Its new MPs are trying to take over the much-coveted corner seat on the "rebels' bench" in the House of Commons.

The seat itself is on the corner of the frontbench along the aisle from the opposition frontbench, furthest away from the Speaker. Here it is:


 

This seat has been occupied by Dennis Skinner, Labour backbench veteran and monarch-bothering socialist firebrand, since he wrested it from David Owen in the early Eighties. But he has been sitting on that row ever since Edward Heath became Prime Minister in 1970; Skinner has been an MP - the "Beast of Bolsover" - since that year.

Here he is in action from his favourite seat - an ideal vantage point for heckling the Prime Minister:
 


 

But the new SNP contingent of 56 MPs attempted today to steal Skinner's seat, in parliament's first vote since it dissolved for the general election. Hours ahead of parliamentary business, which began at 2.30pm today, SNP MPs took it in turns to sit in Skinner's seat in order to reserve it for their party.

Skinner managed to force them out of the seat, but he warns the SNP MPs he won't give up without a fight when parliament sits next week. He tells me: "Today is one victory, and it is significant, but it will be a running battle."

Every morning at 8am, Skinner reserves the seat with a prayer card. He won't give away how he'll beat the 56 MPs' rota system - "It's like a Premier League football match; you don't reveal your plans" - but says, "I'm not going to go quietly... I've never had any trouble in 30-odd years [reserving the seat] when Big Ben chimes. That's what they have to remember.

"I am here every day, and they are determined to try and get me out. It tells you a lot about them - the idea that you're going to throw out an 83-year-old after 45 years. It's a great political victory to be on the rebel bench. I don't think some of them understand how it works at all."

Skinner's main gripe isn't even the breaking of tradition. It's that he believes the SNP MPs are slavishly following instructions. "They don't understand what they're doing on behalf of the leadership," he says. "The rota system might work for a while, but they are just being lobby fodder for their leader. They might get fed up of that. I would. I've always been a backbencher; I've never been lobby fodder."

I ask Skinner what he said to the new MPs he clashed with this afternoon in the chamber. "You don't want to be in Westminster full-time, do you?" he replies. "You want to get away from Westminster with your Barnett Formula, so that my constituents have to pay money to Scotland, and with your North Sea Oil. Some of them didn't answer at all. They were ordered to do it [try and take my seat]."

Keep an eye out for what might be the bloodiest political battle of our times.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.