Dennis Skinner’s Radical Bible

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September 8, 2016 by James Crossley

Dennis Skinner is, like Corbyn, one of the few figures from the old Labour Left to survive the Blair-Brown years. Skinner is a former miner and has been MP for Bolsover since 1970. He is also a rare breed these days in that he has connections with the once prominent Nonconformist (in this case Methodist) traditions in the Labour movement. In his memoirs he refers to the connections often made in the Labour movement between Methodism and Marxism and how lay Methodist preachers were a significant presence in pit communities. 

What is also significant (for me) is his use of the Bible. Like Corbyn and others he cites what is surely the most popular passage in contemporary political discourse–the Parable of the Good Samaritan–and does so in a way that further illuminates Corbyn’s reading, both of which owe much to this Nonconformist tradition. For Skinner, this parable is not about individualist improvement  (‘a load of crap’) but collective good of the sort he saw in the pit (‘solidarity and struggle’) and in trade unionism. This parable about helping ‘someone in need is a socialist story’, according to Skinner. This Radical Bible is distinguished from the more vague and agreeable (in cross party terms) Liberal Bible because ‘The Tories and Liberal Democrats are incapable of representing working people’ as shown by the ‘squalid ConDem coalition’ then ruling. He goes further still and argues that there should be no compromise with capitalism and capitalism must be confronted. This is all part of what is needed for the ‘transformation of Britain’ in the interests of working people and their families and he moves on to push for public ownership of electricity companies, rail, and the whole of the National Health Service. (Dennis Skinner, Sailing Close to the Wind, p. 108)

Skinner is a rare example of this Radical Bible surviving in parliament after the retirement of Tony Benn who was an extensive user of such a tradition. When Corbyn (immediately) started using the Good Samaritan it did not come from nowhere. Moreover it is a culturally credible tradition as it has been tied in with the foundation of the NHS and constructed Anglicised tradition, with the Bible protecting English or British socialism from Stalinism. This tradition is also one that the press and hostile politicians are very unlikely to attack (unlike almost everything else Corbyn does). 

Skinner has also shown solidarity with Corbyn before flicking the Vs at the anti-Corbyn Parliamentary Labour Party.

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