Skwawkbox is one of several “alt left” websites to have emerged over the past decade. During Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, their declared aim was to defend him against the relentless attacks of the “MSM” (mainstream media).
Skwawkbox distinguished itself by apparently having insider access to both Corbyn’s office and to the leadership of Unite. Or, to put it another way, it appeared to be the chosen mouthpiece of the pro-Brexit “Four M’s” faction (Karie Murphy, Seumas Milne, Andrew Murray and Len McCluskey) in Corbyn’s inner sanctum.
The source of many of Skwawkbox’s “exclusives” is widely believed to have been Karie Murphy, Executive Director of the Leader’s Office under Corbyn and someone who also has close links with the Unite leadership.
In November 2019, the (then) Labour MP Anna Turley sued Unite and Steve Walker, editor and owner of Skwawkbox, for libel following a story published on the site in 2017. The story came from a Unite press statement suggesting that Turley had been dishonest in her application to join the union’s Community section.
Following a six-day trial in December 2019 the court awarded Turley £75,000 in damages, and it emerged that the legal costs payable by Unite amounted to more than £1.5 million. Unite sought leave to appeal, but was refused.
In the course of the trial Walker, who had previously claimed that Skwawkbox takes “no funding from any organisation, so our independence can’t be compromised”, told the judge that Unite was funding his legal bills. It also emerged that Unite had rejected an offer from Turley to settle. If it had accepted, the case would have been resolved out of court and the costs minimised. As it was, Unite members in effect paid an enormous and unnecessary legal bill.
Overseeing this fiasco (alongside Len McCluskey) was Unite’s head of Legal Affairs, Howard Beckett.
Bro. Beckett is now hoping to become Unite’s next General Secretary (the election is expected to be later this year) and has the active support of Len McCluskey. He also has the active support of Skwawkbox, which has promoted his unfounded claims to have been robbed of the union’s United Left endorsement by electoral fraud.
The site is now suggesting that Beckett should be given a clear run by the other left candidates (the United-Left-backed Steve Turner and the independent leftist Sharon Graham) on the preposterous grounds that his “Facebook metrics” are “streets ahead” of the other two’s. Apparently “Facebook metrics” means the “extent to which union members and the Labour movement engage with his [Beckett’s] social media output... and the performance of each individual post”.
There is certainly is a strong case for the union’s left agreeing on just one candidate, given the threat from right winger Gerard Coyne, but Skwawkbox’s novel method of deciding that it should be Beckett, combined with its uncritical adulation of a character for whom the term “fake left” could have been designed, has produced much amusement even in the site’s below the line comments (or rather, it did until they were switched off). One comment, in particular, drew attention to why Skwawkbox and Mr Walker might be so keen on Beckett:
“Skwawkbox’s beloved, constantly promoted as a true radical, millionaire ex law firm owner, Union bureaucrat Howard Beckett, is another insider McCluskey crony, of the same empty rhetoric mould... But Skwawkbox, which Beckett was instrumental in financially supporting during that libel case , potentially a bankrupting lost case, slavishly backs Howard Beckett as a return favour — with no platform provided for the actual Left candidate — or explanation of why he is ‘unsuitable’. This is cronyism too, Skwawkbox...”