Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Alt-Left Blogs Face Left Critics: the Canary, Skwawkbox, Novera.

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Phil’s latest merits a wide audience.

The Alt-Left: A Critical Appreciation

Among the big winners of the general election are the wave of new blogs collectively dubbed the “alt-left”. You know who I’m talking about. The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara, Evolve Politics and Another Angry Voice have been singled out by the mainstream as the authentic voices of the new socialism that has seized hold of the Labour Party and powered it to its highest number of votes for 20 years. Despite these blogs being around for some time (AAV since 2010, Skwawkbox 2012) they constitute part of the third age of blogging, which saw outsiders seemingly appear from nowhere to muscle in on online comment. In a short period of time, they have all carved out serious audiences, according to Buzzfeed’s in-depth feature (itself a product of the third wave). How, and why is it – Novara’s Aaron Bastani aside – they are all outsiders? Why didn’t established radical journalists, other socialist blogs, or the regular output of the far left become key artefacts of the Corbynist zeitgeist? It’s because of how this “outsiderness” relates to their content which, in turn, has found substantial audiences.

Novera, Phil comments,  operates in the more traditional field of political analysis. The present Page offers on article that suggests that present outage over Grenfell Tower and the issue of housing, has something in common with the Spanish mass movement, the Indignados,or Movimiento 15-M or which involved millions of people, in protests against the ruling parties’ corruption, incompetence and formed the groundwork for Podemos, although  how the “current wave of indignation will crystallise” in the UK is left open (Britain’s Indignant Moment? Grenfell, Neoliberalism and the New Common Sense).

One can, with regret or not, say that last week’s Day of Rage,  was not much of a sign of such a movement.

Novera also includes a piece by Richard Seymour that offers a sober and pretty decent analysis of the rise of Corbyn in conditions where such protests were absent, or marginal. After the Miliband defeat, “he had an analysis not only of the grimly familiar litany of austerity’s failures but also of Labour’s crisis. He understood it as a crisis of the roots, a failure to connect to the activists and movements without whom Labour was just a professional political elite obsessed with psephology and spin.” Leaving aside the contentious claim that it was “he” Corbyn rather than Team Corbyn, that propelled the successful campaign for the Labour leadership, Seymour points out rightly, that there emerged a “protest movement in itself, attracting enormous rallies of the angry and disaffected Labour base in that  that post-election, “

Unfortunately there is a lot of speculation – wishful thinking would be a better term – in Seymour’s conclusions,  “He (Corbyn) has found hidden reservoirs of support and strength for the Left, raw materials for social transformation. In doing so, he has also exposed the inherent fragility of the supposedly indomitable, terrifying Tory machine, accentuating its inherited crises and long term decline, and potentially hastening the end of its role as a viable party of government.” (Where We Go From Here.)

These examples perhaps pass the line between taking the time to grasp political reality and expressing hopes and wishes for the future, but optimism is often welcome even if the will may overreach itself. One might ask, were one from these quarter, the radical left, if a movement focused on elections, and creating a mass party with some social activism,  is really something new and path breaking in European social democracy? Labour’s programme that while offering a series of reforms and nationalisations, is some respects to the right of this year’s unfortunate French Socialist Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, 6,4%, which offered Basic Income, a Europe-wide minimum wage, and the legalisation of cannabis amongst its policies

The Canary, strikingly,   passes well beyond the reality principle, “In one sentence, Corbyn drops a truth bomb that should have the Tories running for the hills.

The phrase is, apparently, “Yes, the £10 an hour living wage, real living wage, is correct and also should apply to all workers, because I don’t think young people eat less than old people – that’s my experience anyway.

Other stories, again from the Canary, live up to the point that, “What they all share is a default (and correct) assumption that the system is rigged and the powers-that-be will conspire, collude, and collaborate to forever gerrymander privilege for themselves and their cronies. The stock-in-trade for the blogs are stories that reinforce this healthy scepticism.”

Witness, the headline, “We’ve been investigating the evidence about the Grenfell fire. And what we’ve found is numbing. 

It is hard to find anything in this article that is not common knowledge, broadcast in the MSM.

Another Angry Voice is  simply what its name gives, enraged:  “Taking back control” by handing control of HS2 to one of three foreign governments.

Evolve Politics is a front for a nationalist ideology, called ‘sovereigntism’ which considers that the British Parliament ‘taking back control’ from the EU, Brexit, is a step forward.

Leaving the single market will unleash the full potential of Corbynism, no wonder the Blairites want to stay in it.

In this version of National Parliamentary Socialism the EU is an obstacle to the left and those who want a ‘soft Brexit’ with the UK in the single market are out to stab Corbyn in the back.

Yet what of the fact that young people and most Labour members backed the EU, including the radical left who supported Another Europe is Possible?

This is is the answer: Brexit, when backed by anti-EU ‘progressives’ is really ‘internationalist’.

Those who claim that the majority of Labour’s new membership backed remaining in the EU so Corbyn had to follow suit fail to grasp the complex dynamics of the situation. If Corbyn had put forward a socialist leave position, it would have reconstituted the party membership on different lines, possibly winning back much of UKIP’s voter base to a progressive position. Many of the progressive remain voters as well, who see the EU in terms of their own feelings of internationalism, of solidarity with workers and young people in other countries, could also have been won to a socialist leave position.

Against the ‘Blairite’ supporters of the EU who “will use the single market as a tool to sabotage Corbyn’s programme”  action is needed.

 This means campaigning for mandatory reselection of the Blairite MPs and a Brexit in the interest of the working class

Now it is not generally a good idea for other bloggers educated in the school of hard-blows that was the UK Left Network – whose ‘style’ makes any of the above look tame –  to comment critically about those  trying to make original points, from the left, about politics. That is the function of Blogs and the wider democratisation of news and opinion that the Web encourages. But Third Age bloggers are no more above criticism than the MSM. We could explore other sites, such as We demand UK, Britain is the People, Little Britain First. PigGate 2, Jeremy Corbyn The People’s PM, Mock the Right, The Daily Politik, Red Labour, Walking the Breadline, The Ragged Trousered Philanderer, Nye Bevan News.

But the ones we have singled out, from Phil’s list have the clearest  ambition to be something that resembles the 1960s and 1970s underground press, to be alternative media. In present conditions they aim as high as to offer their own news.

It’s in this respect that Phil points us to some substantial points made by one Bob Pitt, well-known in this parish.

It is an exceptional, and as Phil says, “forensic” demolition of one site, Skwarkbox.

Skwawkbox — an embarrassment to the Left

The almost uniform hostility that Jeremy Corbyn has faced from the press and broadcast media since his election as Labour leader (only slightly mitigated by the party’s impressive showing in the general election) has given a boost to alternative news media whose declared aim is to defend Corbyn’s politics and nail the lies of the “MSM”. Novara Media, The Canary, Evolve Politics, Another Angry Voice and The Skwawkbox are notable examples.

The influence of these alt-left sites shouldn’t be underestimated. In the run-up to the general election BuzzFeed News reported that they were attracting “enormous audiences”. The Skwawkbox, a one-man operation apparently run by a Labour Party member from Liverpool, featured in a BBC News At Ten report, which stated that “many of his articles go viral, with some achieving hundreds of thousands of readers”.

Comrade Pitt registers this impact on the wider media,

On Saturday, Skawkbox also made the front page of the Daily Telegraph, where it was presented in a rather less favourable light. Taking its cue from the Guido Fawkes website, the Telegraph ran a report titled “Corbyn-backers spread ‘fake news’ about blaze toll”, which attacked Skwawkbox’s coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire. The story was then recycled by the Sunday Express which similarly accused Corbyn supporters of misreporting the tragedy.

Without recounting the full story we note.

On 16 June, in an article headed “Video: Govt puts ‘D-notice’ gag on real #Grenfell death toll #nationalsecurity”, Skwawkbox took up the claim made by grime MC Saskilla on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme that the number of victims in the Grenfell Tower fire was far greater than had yet been officially admitted, with as many as 200 people having died.

Skwawkbox used this claim to give credence to rumours that the government was engaged in an attempt to prevent the media reporting the true extent of the disaster: “At the same time, multiple sources told the SKWAWKBOX that the government has placed a ‘D-notice’ (sometimes called a ‘DA Notice’) on the real number of deaths in the blaze.”

When the tale fell apart this was the reaction,

Did Skwawkbox apologise for getting the story wrong and offer assurances that there would be no repetition of this stupid and provocative reporting? You must be joking. Instead, Skwawkbox’s proprietor was stung by the well-deserved criticism of his article into posting an indignant defence of his shoddy journalistic methods. In a quite astonishing display of chutzpah, he declared that he himself had been the victim of “fake news”!

Nowhere, he complained, did he claim that the government had imposed a D-Notice on media coverage of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. He insisted that he had merely raised the possibility that a D-Notice could have been issued. Did he not write “if it is true that the government has issued a D-notice”? Well, yes, he did — but that was immediately followed by the words “and every instinct is screaming that it is”! The author then proceeded on the basis of that assumption to outline his theories about the government’s motives for imposing a media gag.

The former Editor of What Next? and Islamophobia Watch,  covers a few more tall tales and concludes,

But I stopped following Skwawkbox last September after it published ludicrous claims based on dodgy maths about vast numbers of people being excluded from the Labour leadership election (“no fewer than 67,000 eligible voters have not received a vote — over 16% of the Labour electorate”), followed by the baseless accusation of a cover-up by party officials.

That, unfortunately, is how Skwawkbox operates — hyping up stories in order to generate clickbait headlines, with little or no concern for accuracy, often combining this with unsubstantiated claims that the authorities are involved in some sort of conspiracy. The evident purpose of this is to whip up hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn’s political opponents in order to bolster his leadership.

Skwawkbox’s approach is entirely counterproductive. Far from defending Corbyn against right-wing attacks, this irresponsible nonsense just provides ammunition for his enemies, allowing them to portray the Labour leader’s supporters as a bunch of liars and political fantasists. It also degrades the political culture of the left, by sidelining serious analysis and debate in favour of false polemics and crackpot conspiracy theories.

Skwawkbox has a featured post that includes a tweet from an admirer: “This blog is journalism as it should be. True, fair, accurate and in the public interest.” The reality, however, is that Skwawkbox functions as a sort of left-wing mirror image of the right-wing tabloid press, or of alt-right sites like Breitbart News. It employs the same unscrupulous, sensationalist journalistic methods, but for opposite political ends. Skwawkbox appears incapable of grasping that socialist aims cannot be achieved by such anti-socialist means.

Phil by contrast remarks of the alt-left Blogs,

The size of their audience is one reason why they cannot be dismissed with a flick of the polemical wrist. The other is their impact on the political process. Despite the conspiratorial thinking, they have proven effective in cohering armies of social media activists around the Corbyn project. During the election, they inspired and encouraged thousands of peoples to get active in campaigns independently of the herculean mobilisation efforts of Momentum. Those activists are not disappearing either. They’re turning up to constituency meetings in increasing numbers and are steadily making their presence felt. In short, the new blogs top the collective propaganda efforts of established left activism and are helping touch off a mass radicalisation, and that is not to be sniffed at.

This Blog tends to agree with cde Pitt’s critical stand

Conspiratorial thinking, of the kind painfully exhibited in Skwawkbox, and just plain sloppy playing around with facts, is not just to be sniffed at: it is to be opposed.

The Canary gave space to this Opinion in February this year:

Donald Trump is trying a move from Hitler’s playbook, and the media gifted it to him Ben Janaway

At the end is this sentence: We actively invite you to question what you read at The Canary, to follow the hyperlinks we reference, and to search for more information.

Hitler’s playbook is not available on-line.

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

June 25, 2017 at 11:50 am

2 Responses

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  1. Just to note on conspiracism that AAV seems to be the exception. I wrote this after Manchester, note that after I wrote it Sqwaakbox did return to pushing conspiracies and then, of course, Pilger went big on conspiracy. http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/the-left-and-manchester-some-good-news.html

  2. The post I wrote is mainly about their style, lack of substance, and general ra-rai-ng for ‘Corbyn’, though in the case of Evolve Politics they seem to think that opposition to Hard Brexit is some kind of Blairite plot.

    But Bob Pitt does seem to have found some really serious problems about Sqwaakbox.

    Most people would find the meddling in the Grenfell disaster highly distasteful.

    Andrew Coates

    June 25, 2017 at 3:52 pm


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