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11/11/2013 12:38 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Dennis Skinner MP: 'To Be a Socialist, You Have to Be an Optimist'

As a member of parliament for Bolsover in Derbyshire since 1970, Dennis Skinner - the man once dubbed The Beast of Bolsover - continues to hold fast to his socialist ideals, while his presence in the House of Commons serves as a reminder of the need for more open political debate.

Born in 1932, he has been a member of the Labour Party since 1956, and as the grammar school-educated son of a miner, and an ex-miner himself, he understands the plight of the working man better than most.

His necktie is red, his words as hard as pebbles and impossible to ignore. When he rises from his seat in the House of Commons to speak, it seems he stands alone, holding fast to principles other members of the house have been quick to forgo. For many, he is the cotter pin around which the Labour Party revolves.

"My father told me that I was political by the time I was four," he says. "He told me there was no such thing as Santa Claus, because Santa Claus was an economic being who only went to houses where they had money. I learned that lesson pretty early on."

Dennis Skinner stands invigorated, while the electorate does not as it sleep-shuffles its way towards the next election, an election that will be played out in the centre ground.

"I'm a socialist, and to be a socialist you have to be an optimist. I believe in democracy, so we have no need for patronage."

But why should people rouse themselves from their torpor and re-visit the ballot box? "It took the working class centuries to be able to get the right to vote. Having got the right to vote, it seems sensible to use it. And it seems even more sensible to use it when there is a clear political divide on the cost of living. The idea that we're all in it together during this period of austerity is not true. Most of the people who have carried the burden of austerity are those in the middle and at the bottom of the pile."

In the UK, the gulf widens between those becoming poorer and those enriching their coffers, and a self-avowed socialist like Dennis Skinner is able to articulate the concerns of his constituency in a House of Commons still attempting to come to terms with Margaret Thatcher's proclamation that "there is no such thing as society". But for the Labour Party to defeat a coalition that teeters in the middle ground, an alternative way must be presented; a return to brass tacks, if you like.

"The election lines drawn between now and the next election are much clearer than they were in 2010," he says. But what happened to the republican debate? "There are some small voices, and I try my best. I've been in politics for most of my life, but I'm not responsible for that vast majority of people who still believe in the glitz and glamour of the Royal Family."

It strikes me that the political and cultural advances made in the post-war era are being lost. After 1945 came the welfare state, pensions for all and improved education. It was a time when equality was a word upon everyone's lips. But today we have a smug political elite doing little to dissuade the country from the worship of Mammon.

"Yes, I can't understand it," agrees Mr Skinner. "In order to win at an election, you must convince people that you're trying to help the vast majority of people who are going to vote. Many times in the House of Commons I have called the Tory benches 'Millionaire's Row'. I do it to identify who they are."

But while Mr Skinner toils at Westminster, other crucial debates are being held in the world of social media; online communities (comprising those disenfranchised by the major parties) are quick to voice their outrage at the carelessness of the government. This is something that mainstream political parties would do well to countenance.

"It's all coming to a head," he says of the political stasis. "There is no use having a good story to tell in the first year of a government... you need it towards the end." He believes that the Labour Party has managed to capture some of the political agenda, and at the right time.

"Once you get onto that front foot," says the MP for Bolsover, his voice rising, "whether you're playing football or politics, momentum is worth a guinea a box."

So we rush towards election day with expectations: that real change can be enacted that will find us enjoying this trampled land once again; or perhaps, with the realisation that a darker era is upon us, the moderation for which this country has long been known swept aside by an electorate out of love with Messrs Cameron and Clegg, and instead, suddenly and inexplicably in thrall to the political incantations of the chortling, blonde cyclist.