I have known Dennis Skinner since I was in the House of Commons as a very junior reporter in 1993. He was always courteous — but boy, was he tough. I always felt he was on a mission. And you saw that mission every time he stood up in the House, his eyes blazing as red as his tie. That’s why they call him The Beast Of Bolsover. For example, when his arch-enemy Margaret Thatcher resigned, and was replaced by John Major in 1990, Major got to his feet in the Commons for the first time as Prime Minister. Before he had even said a word, Dennis shouted from his place on the Labour benches:
which brought the house down.
My documentary on BBC Radio 2 shows you a very different side of Dennis, however. The death of his darling mum, and his sister, both from dementia, have shaken him. Dennis loves to sing and he remembers his mother’s music. But he also believes music will stave off dementia — not just for himself, but for others. So this surprisingly gentle, and generous, man goes to the care homes in his constituency and sings to the residents. The old songs. The ones his mother sang to him. And as he sings he watches them come alive, and knows his day has been well spent. He lives in fear of dementia but he channels that fear towards others who have already fallen victim.
I found making this programme very moving, and whether or not you like his politics, I think you will be as moved as I was at the work Dennis is doing and the life story he tells.
My documentary is on at 10pm on Radio 2 on May 17th, 2016, and is called “Dennis Skinner vs. Dementia.”