Skwawkbox started in 2012, out of a concern for the National Health Service. It began with an exposé of an issue the mainstream media was spreading "fake news" about and became known as the "Mid Staffs Scandal."
The exposé revealed what was really happening and how the government and media were misrepresenting it. It thrust the blog into the limelight as the Guardian and Huffington Post picked up on the investigative work of Skwawkbox and the misrepresentation in the mainstream media. This set a pattern for the blog’s content: its bedrock, primarily but not exclusively, is investigative journalism and information from insiders and whistle-blowers.
Steve Walker, Skwawkbox’s editor, comes from a Labour family but wasn’t always convinced by what he saw in the party both locally and nationally. He held party membership long before Jeremy Corbyn’s name appeared on the leadership ballot and "persevered through the New Labour period." His real engagement came in 2010 when he felt the Tories had "set about dismantling what was best about our society."
One of Steve’s earliest articles, “The Radical Imperative: Who Dares, Wins, "called upon then-Labour leader Ed Miliband to have the courage to offer an actual, genuine alternative to the austerity policies that David Cameron and George Osborne laid out. Steve believed that people would flock to the vision if someone did, but that it would only be the start of the fight. Five years later and the article seems more than just prescient.
WATCH: Rear Window - Anti-Nuclear Protests
Skwawkbox, as an independent left news outlet, should post with responsibility. Do you feel a sense of responsibility?
Yes – but it’s a bigger and wider sense of responsibility than the mainstream would like. I have a huge responsibility to the truth and I’m careful to be as accurate as possible. But I also see the damage the current government and system is doing to people every day and feel a responsibility to help change that. So what Skwawkbox publishes is usually going to upset someone – in fact, our tagline includes that as a prerequisite for actual journalism. If you’re not upsetting someone, it’s probably just PR – and there are a lot of people with vested interests who are pretty much always upset if someone tries to change a situation they want to continue.
So with that, has it resulted in upset people levelling abuse at you?
There have been threats, as well as numerous people wishing me dead, bankrupt or in prison. The convenient narrative by the Establishment of abusive left-wingers is largely a fiction. The right – in and out of the party – is far more abusive. But people like Diane Abbott (Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Health) routinely suffer far, far worse, so there’s no temptation to feel any self-pity about it.
DIY Politics in the UK
The accusation of fake news is a common smear – but they always have to set up a straw man to make the accusation. I’m careful about what we publish but take no responsibility for people’s inability/unwillingness to read what you’ve actually written. In the end, you can be as careful as you want, but if people want to use the fake-news smear, they’ll either ignore what you’ve written or just make something up and attack that. Some people – even journalists who should know better – are foolish enough to believe what’s claimed by right-wing press and blogs with a proven history of fake news themselves. You can’t tiptoe around that kind of laziness or maliciousness.
One thing we do, though, and rarely get credit for, is publish prominent corrections if something’s wrong. Nobody’s perfect. We do it differently, though – we leave the original article as it is, but add the correction to the top of the article where everyone can see it. If we find out everyone can see it. If we find out something’s wrong and change the original wording, we get accused of trying to hide the error and avoiding responsibility. So we leave it in place but add the correction at the top.
Your Twitter bio states "smeared, feared and followed by the establishment": just a strapline or is there something to it?
The critics give their motives away when, as soon as we’ve got exclusive or published information they want to use, suddenly we’re a credible source again. That happens all the time – sometimes in the same paper or program, we’re smeared one day and the next day information in a Skwawkbox article is the basis for a big piece.
Just this week you had an exclusive with MP Dennis Skinner, an icon for many. How did you secure that interview?
I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets, let’s just say it’s amazing what can happen if you ask. But it’s the fruit of years of building good networks and always treating people with integrity – word gets around, so others know you can be trusted to handle what they say honestly. A lot of people come to us because of that reputation, too.
I've seen attacks on Skwawkbox in the mainstream media. How hard is it to continue in spite of falsities against you from outlets with readerships into the millions?
Not hard at all. You just take it as a sign you’re upsetting the right – in both senses – people. Sometimes it’s even amusing and makes the basis of the next article.
There’s a definite campaign by right-wing Labour MPs to abuse and shame MPs who talk to us ... there have been far too many right-wingers using the right-wing media to try to damage Labour’s electability so they could blame any failures on the leadership. Labour MPs should get an ear-ache from their members if they behave like that – too many people who need a Labour government are suffering because of that kind of behavior.
I've asked @RachaelSwindon and Matt Turner from Evolve this question, too. We are seeing groups such as "Moggmentum" and "Activate” emerge from the right. They say imitation is a form of flattery, but do you think it, in turn, could prove competitive opposition to the likes of Momentum and "DIY Politicians" like yourself?
The fact that they think they can buy or manufacture the authenticity and vision that makes Momentum and the new left media work, speaks volumes about how out of touch and self-entitled the Tories are.
I wanted to get some personal views from you too. Skwawkbox had an excellent article on the portrayal of the situation in Venezuela in Western media, recently. What are your latest thoughts on the ongoings?
I’m sure the (Nicolas) Maduro government has room to improve, but it’s equally clear that the U.S. and others have an agenda for regime change. That agenda results in a skewed portrayal in the Establishment media in those countries, who are pulling a veil over the violence and motives of the "opposition," which actually has no interest in democracy or popular power, except as a tool to get back to a corporate-dominated landscape. You only have to look at the privileged background and wealth of the main opposition figures to see why they’d object to a successful socialist society and do everything they can to undermine it.
WATCH: Media Review - After the Election
On Sept. 11, Myron Ebell, the head of Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency transition team, appeared on the U.K.'s Newsnight program. Scientists, meteorologists and environmental experts have all said the recent hurricanes, inparticular Irma, are unprecedented. It's the first Category 5 hurricane to hit Cuba in almost 100; twinned with Hurricane Jose, it's the first time there have been two 150-mph hurricanes in the Atlantic at the same time; and it was the strongest storm in the Atlantic ever recorded, with 37 hours of 187 mph winds. Despite this, Myron Ebell continued, on Newsnight, to label the scientific consensus on climate change as "phony." Do you think either the U.S. or the U.K. are doing enough on the issue of climate change?
I don’t. There’s far too much (covering of backs). Right-wingers are infected with the same short-term thinking that affects many businesses – if you bow to the tyranny of quarterly results you’ve got no chance of long-term, strategic thinking and you’ll always fall to the temptation of what works or wins right now, even if it means creating problems for future generations. That applies to economic, as well as ecological, considerations.
As social media, and ordinary members of the public, in turn, strengthen its ability to hold the government and MPs to account, do you feel there have been direct results achieved on the back of the public shaming of MPs that occurs on Twitter?
I wouldn’t categorize any of it as "shaming" – that’s letting the Establishment frame the narrative, which they can easily turn into the smears of the "abusive left" that they’re constantly trying to make stick at the moment ... it’s just about making people accountable for their behavior. Social media and the new left media just mean politicians have to take responsibility for their behavior: be more honest, have more integrity. And if they sell out, (they should) be prepared to face the results if found out.
What do you want Skwawkbox to achieve in the long run? You’ve been active for five years and have really picked up the pace this year.
Change; a fair society with an aware population that won’t fall for the Tory "Big Lie" again. If we get there, I can happily hang up the keyboard.
There isn’t an aim in terms of the Skwawkbox itself – being the biggest or most famous or whatever. That would be missing the point, which is to get the word out and let people understand what’s happening better. If we were in it for fame or fortune we’d be no different to the mainstream and people would soon see that.