Skinner defiant after rebuke for cocaine slur

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Indy Politics

Dennis Skinner, the veteran rebel Labour MP, was unrepentant after being thrown out of the Commons chamber for aiming a drugs slur at the shadow Chancellor George Osborne, David Cameron's leadership campaign manager.

The rumbustious 73-year-old former miner, nicknamed the Beast of Bolsover, was ordered out of the chamber for refusing to withdraw the attack on Mr Osborne, made under parliamentary privilege.

Michael Martin, the Speaker, objected after Mr Skinner complained about the state of the economy under Tory governments of the 1980s, adding: "The only thing that was growing then were the lines of coke in front of boy George and the rest of the Tories."

Mr Martin demanded he withdraw his accusation but the MP hit back: "That was in the News Of The World and you know it."

Mr Skinner refused to take back his comment saying, "No, I'm not withdrawing it ... it's true", at which the Speaker said he must do so or leave the chamber.

A Conservative Party spokesman said Mr Osborne rebutted the allegation. During the leadership election, the Cameron camp was dragged into a controversy over drugs when Mr Cameron refused to answer questions over whether he had used cocaine.

Last night, Mr Skinner told friends he was determined to hit back at Tories who had targeted him in the chamber for attempting to raise the drugs issue in recent weeks. "It's war," he said. "And it's not over yet."

Tory officials suspect it could be the start of a dirty tricks campaign by Labour to take the gloss off Mr Cameron's leadership launch. Senior Labour MPs are planning to publicly accuse Mr Cameron of being out of touch with public opinion because he is an Old Etonian.

However, Mr Skinner said he was not part of an organised campaign against Mr Cameron. He was angry after being reported to the Sarjeant-at-Arms in the Commons for putting in prayer cards to reserve his seat without attending prayers.

Mr Skinner has been banned from the chamber nine times since 1979, including a five-day ban in 1981. In 1992, he was thrown out for calling John Gummer, the then agriculture minister, a "little squirt of a minister" and a "wart".

However, he has not matched Lord Heseltine, the former Tory cabinet minister, who was admonished for swinging the Mace.