The Rise Of The Alt-Left British Media
They've been mocked, ignored, and dismissed as conspiracy mongers – but a small group of hyperpartisan British media outlets have quietly built enormous audiences on Facebook in the space of just two years with relentlessly pro-Corbyn coverage. But how will the British alt-left media cope with the election?
Even if you’re a political obsessive you’ve probably never heard of Thomas G Clark. It’s understandable: He’s not a politician, so he doesn’t get much press coverage or many requests for comment. Nor is he a political pundit, so he doesn’t spend his time taking part in profile-raising TV programmes, or arguing the toss with opponents in carefully balanced, Ofcom-friendly debates that never stray too far from the political agenda set by that morning’s newspapers and BBC news bulletins.
Clark doesn’t have much of an inside track on what’s going on in Westminster and he’s not even particularly aligned with any single political party – with the exception of holding strong anti-Tory views. In fact, he’s a thirtysomething part-time English tutor originally from the Yorkshire Dales who has never previously spoken to the media and was quite happy to keep a relatively low profile until BuzzFeed News got in touch.
He’s also, measured by Facebook shares per article in the first week of the election campaign, the most viral political journalist in the entire country.
Clark’s site, Another Angry Voice, is attracting a readership that most mainstream news sites would kill for. Despite still being hosted on an old-fashioned Blogspot account and relying on donations for funding, it’s reaching millions of people with a combination of endearingly homemade memes, Facebook-friendly headlines, and a regular output of relentlessly anti-Conservative takes on the news. Recent mega-viral hits include "How many of Jeremy Corbyn's policies do you actually disagree with?”, "30 things you should know about the Tory record”, and "The systematic Tory abuse of disabled people”.
Just as the likes of Breitbart broke into the mainstream during the 2016 US presidential election by exploiting a lack of right-wing viral news, the 2017 general election is driving record traffic to the loose collection of alt-left British outlets that are positioning themselves as Corbyn’s outriders, jumping on stories without much of the nuance of outlets that remain rooted in mainstream reporting traditions.
There’s nothing particularly new about such outlets. It’s well over a decade since political blogging established itself in the UK and Clark himself has been quietly running his site for seven years, with little initial success: Clark says he “used to punch the air” when a post reached 10,000 views. But until around 2015 most of these blogs remained aimed at an insider audience or local activists – featuring titbits widely read by those in the Westminster bubble or people who work at mainstream news organisations, or appealing only to the rare members of the public who waste their lives discussing political news. It usually took an established outlet to pick up a story in order to make it go mainstream.
What's changed is that, according to analysis conducted by BuzzFeed News during the first two weeks of the election campaign, articles by Another Angry Voice and other similar alt-left media publications such as The Canary, Evolve Politics, and Skwawkbox are consistently and repeatedly going more viral than mainstream UK political journalism.
This election marks the tipping point following years of growth, where a core audience of millions of left-leaning readers are consuming such sites in isolation and obsessing over their completely distinct news agenda. Driven almost entirely by what shares well on Facebook, they barely register in the Twitter-dominated world of Westminster journalists, except when they’re occasionally mocked for their supposedly borderline-conspiracy interpretations of events. But there are common factors to their success: an unashamed role as a cheerleader for Jeremy Corbyn, producing openly slanted coverage in support of the Labour leader, all filtered through the prism of mainstream media criticism.
"When you follow something like The Guardian or the Mirror, one minute they're posting good stuff that holds the Tories to account, and the next they're posting anti-Corbyn stuff that goes way over the line by abusing/misrepresenting him and bullying his supporters,” explained Clark when asked why his stories are more viral than other outlets. "I guess my page just isn't as cognitive dissonance–inducing because people know more or less what kind of stuff I'm likely to do.”
Essentially, if you’re tired of biased right-wing reporting dominating the agenda, why not fight fire with fire? If millions of people, desperately willing the Conservatives to defeat, are looking for hope, why would you expect them to read and share reports about Labour’s failings? And so, even as Labour is struggling in the polls and local elections, these sites are surging among a growing band of true believers.
“People know they’re being misled but they work hard making ends meet and don’t have the time to think it all through,” said Clark, who considers himself a writer rather than a journalist. “So they really like having a guy out there who can cut through the propaganda and put the counter-arguments into articles and infographics they can share."
By following this template – combining highly viral graphics and headlines with exposés on how the established political system is rigged – these alt-left sites are increasingly setting the agenda among Labour members during this election, if not the general public. They're terrifying anti-Corbyn Labour centrists, who feel unable to fight back and have told BuzzFeed News that the output of such sites is being discussed at the highest levels of the party. They fear such outlets are deluding Labour's core activist base by convincing them Corbyn is an electoral asset while restricting the ability to push centrist messages through traditional media outlets, which would appeal to floating voters. Meanwhile some of the writers want Corbyn and his team – who have always had an uneasy relationship with mainstream outlets – to engage with sites that were previously considered to be on the extreme fringes of journalism and could be easily ignored.
But what happens when the rapid growth of these alt-left sites – one of the biggest below-the-radar success stories in British media over the last few years – collides with the reality of election results?
If you want to understand the recent success of the British alt-left media, you have to understand what drives traffic to these sites. And nothing on the British political internet is as viral as attacks on the supposed bias, prejudice, and sloppiness of the mainstream media – especially when it comes to covering the current leader of the Labour party.
“I like to rebut a lot of the stuff that comes out in the right-wing press about Jeremy Corbyn," said Matt Turner, assistant editor of the viral site Evolve Politics, who believes a key part of his role is hold the media to account and educate the public on how they are being manipulated. “We have the ability to call this out to and reach people who might otherwise believe what they read in The Sun or the Mail.”
His site, which was started in the aftermath of Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, is thriving. Recent successes include an attack on the Daily Mail headlined "Day Two of ‘Snap Election 2017’, and the threat of fascism couldn’t be clearer”, "Polls show Corbyn is rapidly gaining ground on Theresa May and the Conservatives”, and "Corbyn and the coalition of chaos!? We’re already in fucking chaos thanks to the Tories!” They combine the highly emotive headline style that plays well on Facebook – a tactic that sites such as BuzzFeed News helped to make popular – with a skew on events that is openly partisan and won’t be found in the mainstream media.
Turner says the top three traffic drivers for his site are, in descending order, criticism of the BBC’s political coverage, posts highlighting hypocritical actions by senior Conservative politicians ("if you write about some gaffe they’ve done it’s absolute gold”), and exposés of people within the Labour party working to undermine Corbyn’s leadership through the media.
“The way we write is not without its biases but it presents an alternate point of view which is legitimate,” said Turner, who is also a final-year student at the University of Nottingham and regularly appears on Russia Today as a political analyst. “There’s no point in denying it…for us to deny that would be like The Sun denying they have an anti-Corbyn bias.”
What’s striking is the extent to which the new alt-left sites can appear remarkably similar in tone and approach to their arch-enemies at The Sun and the Daily Mail, using the same tabloid tactics to reach the maximum number of people and putting a heavy spin on quotes and statistics. Many editors are taking the view that if right-wing tabloids are able to twist the Labour leader’s words and get away with it then there's a legitimate case for them to do the same in his defence. Most place great emphasis on linking to sources and to quotes. What’s often more disputed is how they heavily spin the headlines and interpretations that surround these stories.
Turner approvingly noted that when The Canary – the doyen of the alt-left media outlets – first launched in late 2015 it was dubbed “the left-wing Daily Mail” by virtue of being written in a way that is accessible to everyone. To the outsider the approach can look deluded: A single errant tweet by a BBC reporter can be spun into a long narrative about more mainstream bias. But to the reader who is furious that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies aren’t getting coverage, it’s simply the inverse of what the Mail has been doing to left-wing politicians and activists for decades.
“We are absolutely biased,” said Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor of The Canary, when asked about its approach to covering the news. "We’re biased in favour of social justice, equal rights – those are non-negotiable things. We’re in this as an issue-driven organisation.”
Mendoza insisted her site remains happy to criticise Labour when the party diverges from left-wing positions.
"Every press organisation has an editorial stance and we’re certainly no different,” she said. Recent headlines include "Theresa May gave a speech so ‘preposterous’ that even the Daily Mail called it ‘extraordinary’”, "Whistleblowers have come forward with new election fraud evidence that every UK voter needs to read”, and "A BBC political editor shows his true colours by promoting anti-Corbyn propaganda” – that last one highlighting a tweet by the BBC’s Norman Smith in which he posted the Conservatives’ new attack advert.
What’s clear is that this relentless approach to news stories, where almost every action has an ulterior motive and the lines between activism and journalism are blurred, is incredibly effective at building an audience. Where once such sites attracted a few thousand readers and were easily dismissed, the enormous growth in their audience makes them difficult to ignore. Evolve Politics – where recent coverage of Tony Blair’s suggestion voters should consider backing any anti-Brexit candidate was headlined "Ex-Labour PM Tony Blair literally just said people should 'vote Tory’” – averaged 7,458 Facebook shares for each article it wrote, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis of the most viral news stories on Facebook regarding the first week of the general election. The Canary averaged 7,459, while Another Angry Voice has hit an enormous 19,133 shares for each election-related piece – which has already translated into millions of views, according to the site.
By comparison, the best performance by an established media outlet was by the website of the i newspaper, which has been averaging 2,932 shares a piece – and even that is only narrowly ahead of the Kremlin-backed Russia Today. The BBC, with its attempt to produce carefully balanced political headlines, is averaging 1,115 shares, although it has an enormous captive audience in the form of millions of people who visit its website or mobile app directly.
Exact readership figures are harder to prove but Mendoza claimed viral articles on The Canary regularly reach 500,000 views each, while one Another Angry Voice article recently reached 1.5 million views. The result is that many of these sites are attracting millions of readers a week, many of whom are rejecting more traditional left-leaning outlets that stick to the mainstream news agenda.
These measures are imperfect and imprecise and do not include content hosted directly on Facebook, such as video. In addition, many of the bigger traditional news outlets are more popular on Facebook when all shares are taken into account. But on an article-by-article basis these sites are beating the competition when it come to going viral – and the only way is up, potentially at the expense of more established left-leaning publications.
Turner said Evolve Politics is particularly benefiting from The Guardian’s perceived anti-Corbyn tone, which has alienated many supporters of the Labour leader who previously paid to be part of the newspaper’s membership scheme: “I find it incredibly disappointing, but that’s opened up the market for us. People say they used to subscribe [to The Guardian] but now say they actually prefer to give us a tenner a month instead.”
The Canary’s Mendoza agreed that The Guardian’s centre-left politics don’t necessarily suit the online left-wing reader: "I think they’re liberal, not left-wing. They’re centrist, largely middle-class, and white. The gradualism approach doesn’t play so well on the left. It’s not OK to ask people at the bottom of the pile to wait until a convenient time until you guys are comfortable. That’s the key distinction."
What terrifies the anti-Corbyn faction within the Labour party is the extent to which the growth of alt-left news outlets leaves them increasingly unable to influence the party’s internal discussion and deludes activists going into the general election.
One anti-Corbyn Labour aide told BuzzFeed News many of the party's MPs now felt unable to place stories or comment pieces in The Sun or the Daily Mail – where they could potentially reach floating voters – because sites such as The Canary and newcomers such as Skwawkbox will immediately launch a series of attack pieces on the politician for cooperating with enemy media, which then causes trouble with activists at a community level.
There’s also the lack of chumminess in the relationship between alt-left reporters and political staffers. Labour aides point out that even when dealing with political correspondents who work at unfriendly newspapers such as the Mail or the Telegraph it’s still possible to build up relationships and argue that a story is unfair, thereby softening the impact when it finally reaches the public. Alt-left sites are far less susceptible to such influence, since they’re almost entirely run by part-timers outside London who care little for arguing the toss over the story of the day. Instead they view it as part of their mission to criticise these relationships.
"There has to be some link to reality,” despaired the anti-Corbyn aide. "People will always read papers that reinforce their views – you're a Mirror reader or a Guardian reader. But this is a different order. This is no mechanism by which to correct.”
(Most of the sites mentioned in this article would strongly disagree, insisting they are happy to retract and correct where necessary – The Canary goes as far as to pin corrections to the top of its Facebook page, while Skwawkbox insists it gives equal prominence on its homepage to retractions.)
Multiple Labour MPs have independently told BuzzFeed News they are shocked by the influence the new wave of alt-left news sites is having on the party membership and the frequency with which stories posted on such sites – often featuring interpretations of events that many of the MPs dispute – are mentioned unprompted by local activists in constituency meetings. One staunchly anti-Corbyn Labour MP struggled to control their anger, describing these sites as “propaganda and ideological purity dressed up as news and views and beamed on the internet direct to the politically deranged”. They declined to be named, as they have been a frequent target of several of these sites.
The Labour MP suggested the sites were the modern equivalent of “the six nutters who sell the Socialist Workers Party newspaper in any town centre” but were being boosted by an online echo chamber.
“Both sides feed off each other like the drug dealer and the junkie,” they told BuzzFeed News. "Technology has given them the wider reach, though there’s no evidence that they are getting any more traction with the vast majority of normal, sensible people in this country. But the other big change has been a political one: Whereas these people used to be on the fringes of political debate in hard-left groups, now they’re all in the bloody Labour party."
The extent to which the anti-Corbyn camp fear the influence of the alt-left sites is particularly apparent when it comes to this faction’s planning for a potential leadership contest after the general election. Last summer one person who worked on Owen Smith’s failed leadership challenge told BuzzFeed News there was no way the centrists could compete with the influence of this section of the media on the party membership.
"Immediately before we even appointed anyone to do social media they had tens of thousands of people sharing bullshit from The Canary or some other half-true source,” they complained, by way of explaining why their campaign struggled online.
Ultimately these sites are filling the gap left by the fact the left-leaning mainstream media is misaligned with the increasingly radical demands of many of its readers. Matt Zarb-Cousin, who spent 10 months as Corbyn’s media spokesperson before quitting in March, said too many traditional lobby journalists are “completely out of touch” and that these new sites are “filling the void” for people who felt the public weren’t getting enough information about Corbyn.
“There is a natural scepticism in the Labour membership of how the press report things and who owns the media,” he says. “All of these negative stories – the membership doesn’t believe the narrative. What I found interesting was how Owen Smith was desperate to use the mainstream press but the membership sees through all of that.”
Zarb-Cousin suggested these sites could fulfil the need for journalistic outlets to carry Corbyn’s message to the masses, providing a vital piece of infrastructure that has been missing in Corbyn's two years of Labour leader: "When you’ve got the vast majority of the lobby against you, they’re not going to carry your message. Because the left [of the Labour party] went from 0 to 100 we didn’t have any outriders – no talking heads, no commentators.”
In short, Corbyn – like Donald Trump – needed his own media cheerleaders. Their rise has also resulted in a deep-seated distrust of supposedly Labour-supporting organisations such as the New Statesman – which was recently picketed over its anti-Corbyn stance – and the BBC, which until relatively recently was used to being under fire from the likes of the Daily Mail for being too left-wing. The broadcaster’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, is a regular target, with pictures of her often photoshopped alongside allegations of bias and posted in a bid to go viral.
“I think an awful lot of political journalists let themselves get far too close to the politicians they are supposed to be holding to account,” said Clark from Another Angry Voice, explaining why his readers distrust many mainstream political correspondents. "How else is it possible to explain the woeful lack of scrutiny? I don't take extreme absolutist positions on things, but it's easy to see how other people could come to believe that political journalists are just as much part of the elitist establishment insiders' club as the politicians.”
Now that the alt-left media has quietly built a substantial left-leaning audience of millions, it’s moving to the next stage: direct reporting from sources inside the Labour party. Pro-Corbyn Labour aides have spent the last two years being exhausted by the endless stream of negative leaks from within the party to right-leaning newspapers. Now, finally, they seem to be realising there is another way – fighting fire with fire by briefing stories to the new group of alt-left sites. And the main beneficiary is a previously obscure outlet called Skwawkbox.
Skwawkbox is edited by an office worker from Merseyside called Steve who made his name by criticising the accepted narrative of events at the scandal-hit Mid-Staffordshire NHS trust. (Steve declined to give his full name; when BuzzFeed News suggested his surname was “Walker”, based on previous reports, he said it was “not dissimilar”.) Recent hit stories include “May says EU's tough stance means we need her!? She can't face a pensioner!” and “Tory voters switch to Labour as millions visit NUT #schoolcuts app”. In a valedictory interview with the New Statesman, retiring anti-Corbyn MP Michael Dugher signed off by singling out Skwawkbox's coverage as “total bollocks”. The site took it as a massive compliment.
“It’s about being positive rather than being unbalanced,” Steve says when asked to explain his site’s approach to Corbyn. “You’re trying to let people see that what they’re being told isn’t necessarily the whole truth.”
He supports extending the Freedom of Information Act to allow the release of internal BBC editorial discussions so “supposedly impartial broadcasters” can be held to account and expands on his approach to reporting: "There’s a different way to view the same set of facts that doesn’t show that Jeremy Corbyn is crap... It’s not trying to be a cheerleader, it’s here’s a set of facts, here’s a different way of looking at it, here’s some more facts."
What’s notable about Skwawkbox, compared to the other sites, is its regular run of stories that appear to have been briefed by insiders close to the top of the Corbyn project, filled with information and quotes that suggest individuals close to the top of the party are starting to use alt-left sites as a way of getting their message out. Stories include an exclusive arguing that Labour general secretary Iain McNicol – a regular target for pro-Corbyn activists – was not pulling his weight during the local elections, complete with Facebook pictures, the revelation he is on a "two-week holiday trip to Vietnam", and a source quote from Labour HQ.
"He went straight to leave from Israel – guest of LFI,” a Labour HQ source told the blog, referring to Labour Friends of Israel. "He hasn’t visited any of the mayorals or local government election seats. He missed the local election launch and has no plans in his diary to go to the West Midlands!”
One individual with knowledge of Labour’s all-powerful National Executive Committee told BuzzFeed News concerns over posts on Skwawkbox had been discussed at the top level of the party, while Labour was spending time attempting to disprove claims put out on the site, including stories about emails leaked from the top of the NEC.
“I do get lots of things sent to me – that’s a relatively recent phenomenon,” says Steve, who insists he is not briefed directly by the leader’s office. “It’s not true in any direct sense. I have various people who send me things second- or third-hand but I know they’re well-connected enough to give me things. I’m not on the phone to Jeremy Corbyn.”
He also denies claims he is regularly in contact with Labour NEC member Christine Shawcroft: “I’ve contacted Christine, she’s never contacted me, never met her in person. It’s similar to what I imagine a professional journalist would do.”
"I totally admire the people out on the doorstep but my thing is doing what I do and getting information out there," he says, explaining why he runs the site. "It’s easy for people to get discouraged when it seems there’s a one-way stream of people trying to do down Corbyn’s credibility."
On one occasion the site published a seemingly outlandish claim that the Copeland by-election, where the Conservatives narrowly beat Labour, had been unlawfully administered. A reporter from BuzzFeed News contacted the original source to ask what evidence they actually had. Within hours Skwawkbox had published a follow-up story highlighting our interest as evidence that the “MSM” was once again following the blog’s lead and in the process giving credence to its story. A separate post alluded to the fact that BuzzFeed News had been in touch regarding an interview but warned the final piece may not be trustworthy and "it will be interesting to see how far the way the discussion is presented fits this writer’s experience of it”.
The success of the British alt-left media is a creation of Facebook. Without the social network’s enormous reach and algorithm there is no way that the sites could have reached critical mass and a core readership. Growth of the leading sites – many of which have been around in some form, either as personal blogs or less viral incarnations, for some years – coincided with Corbyn’s arrival as Labour leader but also took off with the enormous expansion of smartphone ownership. Almost all the editors of such sites have a deep understanding of how to phrase headlines that will go viral on Facebook, framing topics in a far more attention-grabbing way than many mainstream outlets do.
"They know that Twitter’s covered already,” says Turner of Evolve Politics, explaining why many sites eschew the favoured hangout of the mainstream political journalist. Instead it’s often about getting debate going by posting links to stories in Labour-supporting Facebook groups, sometimes on closed lists containing upwards of 50,000 people. “If the story is good and has potential people will share it in those groups,” he says. “That’s when we reach an audience outside our Facebook likes.”
Many alt-left titles have built up enormous Facebook followings thanks to their regular shareable content, helped by punchy headlines and clear meme-style messages. But it’s quasi-publishers that exist entirely on Facebook – often in the form of lightly moderated groups – that are often driving this new agenda.
Dive into the “Labour Party Forum”, a 34,000-strong closed group with no public access, and you’ll find free-flowing arguments stretching into hundreds of comments, where it's possible to exist entirely in an enormous filter bubble. Material from mainstream media sits alongside homemade memes and links to sites that most of the general public don’t even know exist.
When people start sharing or arguing over a headline, it drives up interactions on the post, which then prompts Facebook to push the post up the News Feed of the group’s members and then of those members’ friends. To get news read in a world driven by Facebook you have provoke a strong reaction – and these sites know exactly which buttons to press. A big argument over a post on Facebook drives engagement and pushes it to tens of thousands of people, reaching far more eyeballs than the front page of a typical local newspaper. Within a party such as Labour – even at a time when it has over 400,000 members – that’s a lot of people.
A forlorn statement, largely ignored, pleads with members: "During the election period any anti-Labour posts or posts that support rival parties will result in immediate removal from the forum. This includes posts that criticise the leadership or our MPs.”
To spend time in these groups is to see the parallel media narrative at its purest, where, in the eyes of tens of thousands of Labour activists, stories that are completely ignored by the mainstream are considered to be the most important political news in the country. And when you feel that everyone on your Facebook feed is talking about the same thing, it only becomes more baffling that the mainstream media is once again quoting Theresa May saying the words “strong and stable” instead.
With an audience comes more attention. And with more attention can come problems, especially when it comes to funding. The Canary, in common with several of the sites, claims to have turned itself into a functioning business, but many of the other publications remain essentially amateur operations that happen to be reaching an audience many mainstream outlets would die for.
All the sites BuzzFeed News spoke to for this piece strongly denied suggestions from anti-Corbyn Labour activists that Corbyn-supporting trade unions are providing financial backing to the sites.
Instead, many rely on regular PayPal donations from core readers who believe in the editorial mission; they baulk at the idea of carrying advertising for fear it would compromise their message. Evolve Politics pays a sliding scale of between £3 and £5 per article, plus a 50% share of advertising revenue depending on how many clicks they attract. The Canary also pays according to traffic, with more viral pieces earning the author more money.
There is a risk that operating this way – often with unqualified journalists – can lead to legal problems. In the past these sites were easy to dismiss – who cares what’s written about you on some tiny blog no one reads? – but as their audience grows, the subjects of the pieces are starting to take an active interest. This can be problematic: Skwawkbox and Evolve Politics have both recently reported that they are facing expensive legal actions from the subject of a recent story. Legal bills can crush any publication, especially a small independent blog.
It’s a problem that grows with a key characteristic of the sites: the tendency to produce new interpretations of facts, creating an alternative narrative out of the same material used by the mainstream media. It’s rare to find an outright factually incorrect statistic or quote on a site such as The Canary, which prides itself on its commitment to linking to sources. Instead, when the site’s opponents attack it for “fake news”, the issue is normally a matter of interpretation: Are the alt-left distorting the facts or merely showing the other side of the argument?
Shortly before this article was published, in an entirely coincidental event, The Canary published a story claiming HSBC had secretly funnelled millions of pounds to fund the 2015 Conservative election campaign. The claims were dynamite and The Canary’s growing influence was clear. Helped by the hashtag #ToryDirtyMoney it pushed the story into the mainstream, prompting an SNP MP to write to the Electoral Commission, which ultimately pushed it on to the agenda of ITV political editor Robert Peston.
Encouraged by The Canary’s readers to look into the story, BuzzFeed News investigated – and found it didn’t really stack up. There were no factual errors per se, but the conclusion appeared wide of the mark. After BuzzFeed News published this partial debunk, the comeback was swift. Mendoza, who had taken the time to cheerfully chat about her site’s ambitions, hit back at our reporting and retweeted suggestions we were out to smear The Canary. "Why don't more people go up against the corrupt banking sector?” she tweeted in response, tagging one of the sources of the original HSBC claims. "Look at the shameless attacks on @Gian_TCatt right now.”
The alt-left sites will soon face their biggest challenge yet: the risk of electoral losses under Corbyn’s leadership puncturing their narrative of a surging people’s movement. The readership of such sites may be rising and their influence over Labour activists increasing, but many of these publications have yet to deal with the aftermath of a defeat. It’s chronically unclear whether the material that – thanks to Facebook’s algorithm – is perfectly suited to reached to millions of engaged activists could ever win over floating voters. Several of the editors BuzzFeed News spoke to would not commit on the record to saying they believed Corbyn would definitely win the general election.
If polls are correct and Labour loses heavily, there will need to be a new narrative – and the early signs are that the mainstream media and Labour right will get much of the blame. Skwawkbox reported on the early council election results by suggesting voters in Wales were offered the wrong local candidates and voted for “socialist independents in preference to ‘moderate’ Labour”.
“In other areas that have not seen right-wing die-hards causing the independent candidate phenomenon, Labour has performed strongly, reflecting an energetic Labour campaign,” the site wrote, before noting that a BBC reporter was "clearly disappointed” when the Conservatives failed to take a seat.
Whatever happens, Labour and the rest of the media will increasingly have to deal with the influence of these sites on their members. The sites face funding challenges, legal threats, and questions over their credibility. Their reach is large but rarely appeals to the floating voter. But no matter what happens, they could play a key role in shaping any post-election narrative and efforts by centrists to take back control of the party in a post-Corbyn world. The format of alt-left news sites may change over time, but they have established an audience of millions and are starting to demand their seat at the table.
Ultimately they don’t understand why they should be excluded from the national discussion when right-wing tabloids are reviewed on BBC Radio 4.
As Zarb-Cousin, Corbyn’s former spokesperson, puts it: “If there is a space in the media landscape for The Sun then there is a space for The Canary.”