He was chairman of the Labour Party between 1988 and 1989, and has sat on the National Executive Committee in most years since 1978. He identifies with the left of his party, is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, and was once described by The Economist as a "hard-left oddball".
He became leader of the Derbyshire area of the National Union of Mineworkers between 1966 and 1970. He often tells the (possibly apocryphal) anecdote of turning up for work at his colliery after he had been elected as an MP, refusing to see this as his new occupation. This is why Skinner refuses to miss any sitting in the House of Commons, saying that "if you missed a shift at the pit, you would get the sack". He also refuses to adopt the Pairing system in which he can pair with a Conservative MP and if one misses a vote, the other one can, saying he won't cover for them whilst they "Go swanning off to Ascot or to their boardrooms". As well as this, Skinner holds the distinguished position of being an MP who claims the least expenses from the government, being in third of the 'bottom five' claimers. In The 2004 - 05 sitting of the House, claiming the least expenses for an MP who served the full year. He has never been a member of an All-Party Parliamentary Group; does not eat alongside parliamentary colleagues in the Commons dining room; does not take trips or vacations 'paid for' by others; never drinks in the Commons bar; and stays in the House of Commons during the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament.
He frequently takes a liberal or 'left wing' stance regarding social issues. Having voted for gay rights on every single bill in the House, Skinner has established himself as a leading MP advocating equality for homosexuals. Furthermore, throughout his career he has maintained a strongly pro-choice stance on abortion. On several occasions he has enabled the defeat of moves to reduce the number of weeks the operation can be legally performed in Britain, by talking out the measure (filibustering) and other tactics. One such example was on January 20, 1989, when he held up proceedings by trying to move a writ for a by-election in the constituency of Richmond (Yorks), which was incidentally won by later Conservative leader William Hague. He has explained his views by noting that his mother was often pregnant - Skinner has many siblings.
Skinner has demonstrated that he is willing to vote against government policy produced by his own party, choosing to remain classically left wing, rebelling against notable issues. In 2003 he joined the sizeable number of Labour MPs who voted against the Iraq War, further, he later went on to rebel against the party line when he chose to vote against government policy that intended to allow terror suspects to be detained without trial for 90 days. Skinner has also rebelled against his party on other issues, in March 2007 he joined the 88 other Labour MPs who voted against government policy to renew the Trident Nuclear Missile System. Skinner remains loyal to the old Labour policies which he originally was elected into office with, and which can be reflected by his membership of the Socialist Campaign Group.
He is known for his republican (i.e., anti-monarchist) sentiments, although unlike other Labour left-wingers such as Tony Benn, Kevin McNamara, Ken Livingstone and Clare Short, he has never publicly expressed support for Irish republicanism.
Skinner has often made sarcastic comments upon the arrival of Black Rod (the equivalent of the Sergeant-at-Arms in the House of Lords and symbol of Royal authority) in the Chamber of the House of Commons. He advocates outright abolition of the House of Lords. Black Rod comes each year into the Commons chamber to summon the House to hear the Queen's speech in the upper house, as it is termed. In 2000, he shouted out "Tell her to read the Guardian!" - the Guardian newspaper running a series at the time trying to get support for repealing various laws relating to the monarchy. In May 1992, he told the Queen to "Pay your taxes" at the State opening of Parliament. At the time, this was a big issue.
In 2003, he suggested that the Speaker "bar the doors" after Black Rod had arrived, a practice that is used to block late-arriving MPs from casting their votes after the division bells have been sounded. The tongue-in-cheek suggestion by Skinner was scoffed at by Speaker Michael Martin. In the 2005 State Opening of Parliament, the MP shouted out, after Black Rod asked the Commons to be at the Lords to hear the Queen, "has she brought Camilla [the second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales] with her?" to much laughter from many in the House. In the 2006 State Opening of Parliament, Skinner replied to Black Rod's invitation with "Is Helen Mirren on standby?" The quip brought laughter from the House of Commons, being in reference to the portrayal by Helen Mirren of Elizabeth II in the 2006 film, The Queen. The BBC political commentator Huw Edwards called the quip "cheap but funny". In 2007, he asked "Who shot the harriers?" referring to a recent event in Sandringham, where two protected harriers had been shot near a royal property. Prince Harry and a friend had been questioned by police over the incident.
Throughout his career Skinner's popularity has been consistent and he currently sits in the 13th safest seat of all 646 House of Commons constituency seats in the country. In the 2005 general election Skinner was elected to Parliament with a majority of 18,437 votes.
Skinner has been suspended from Parliament on at least ten occasions, usually for unparliamentary language when attacking opponents. Infractions have included:
"Tell the House of Lords to go to hell."
"I thought you were taking Marquand with you."
"When I called the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) a pompous sod, Mr. Speaker said to me, 'You had better withdraw that'. I said I would withdraw 'pompous', but said, Mr. Speaker 'That's not the word I'm looking for.' There was laughter in the House and everyone thought that I had hit the nail on the head. I thought that that was a real parliamentary triumph, but Mr. Speaker thought differently. He said, 'Off you go,' and I did not get a chance to reply."
"Who shot the Harriers?"
"The hon. Gentleman is making pretty heavy weather of the fact that he was kicked out of this gentleman's club for 20 days. I call it a gentleman's club, but it is known as the mother of Parliaments, although only about 42 women are allowed in here. The hon. Gentleman is complaining that he got 20 days. His real problem is the fact that he is not the Tory party candidate at the next election--and that has nothing to do with what happened in this place.
I have been kicked out of this place about seven times, but I did not have any chance to explain. No one said to me, "Dennis, will you explain why you said that the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was lining his pockets when he picked up that non-executive directorship of British Telecom?" I would have loved to tell everyone all about that, but Mr. Speaker said, "On your bike--early bath," and off I had to go.
I accused the noble Lord, Lord Pym, when he was a Member of this House, of being the Minister for unemployment because there were nearly 2 million people on the scrap heap--that pile of human misery known as the dole queue. Again, I was not able to make a speech before Mr. Speaker sent me out.
Those were all genuine statements that I had to make. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was kicked out for 20 days because he lined his pockets with about £50,000 and did not put it in the register as he is supposed to do, and now he is whingeing but I reckon he got away with blue murder!"