29/09/2015 11:56 BST | Updated 29/09/2016 06:12 BST

Brighton, the Labour Party Conference, and A Tale of Two Cities


Search for "#Brighton" on Instagram and you will find photos of brightly coloured beach huts, hazelnut iced coffee and selfies with the pavilion. This weekend, however, is the Labour Party Conference; so you'll find all of the above, only with lots of men wearing red ties. Away from the conference, and away from the genteel North Laines with its artisanal gelato, cold-press juice bars and Scandinavian design shops, there is another side to the city that doesn't make it onto Instagram.

The streets of Brighton are lined with the victims of Cameron's Britain. The homelessness epidemic is a world apart from city as it appears on Instagram. Welfare cuts and council budget reductions have caused the number of people sleeping rough to increase by 55% since 2010, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Brighton. On the ten minute walk from my flat to the conference centre, you might expect to see ten people sleeping in doorways and on benches. The initiation ceremony for Bullingdon Club, whose membership included David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson, involves burning a £50 note in front of a beggar. These men now run the country. Suffice to say that austerity has not been kind to the homeless.

Then, of course, there are the students. With two universities and numerous colleges, Brighton is home to thirty thousand of them; attracted by glossy university prospectuses full of photogenic young people laughing on the beach, drinking coffee, or reading books while sat on the pier (as if anyone actually does that). Students are part of what makes Brighton great, but austerity has not been kind to them, either. The failure of successive governments to tackle Britain's housing crisis means that students in cities like Brighton can expect to pay rent close to that of London, while a year in university halls can set you back £7700. The average graduate will carry £35,000 of debt, a figure that will only increase now that the Conservatives have scrapped grants for students from low income backgrounds. With another four years of Conservative government stretching out ahead of us, it's going to get worse before it gets better.

With its reputation for liberalism, it's appropriate that Brighton is hosting the Labour Party Conference at a time when the political mood of the party has shifted to the left. The party's new leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is challenging the Conservatives' narrative that austerity is an unavoidable economic necessity. In the process of tackling a toxic and damaging lie which which has already profoundly disfigured the lives of many, Corbyn is also presenting a roadmap for a brighter and fairer future.

The cry of "he's unelectable" may not echo in the gantries of the Brighton Centre, but it may well be whispered in the hotel bars along the seafront, in spite of opinion polls showing that, compared to just after the general election, Corbyn has cut the Conservative lead by four points, in spite of a barrage of negative media coverage. Of course there are concerns, but I'm amazed by anyone who feels qualified to make concrete predictions about the next six months, let alone the next five years. No-one -- including the pollsters the day before the general election -- anticipated a Tory majority. No-one anticipated Jeremy Corbyn's victory, least of all Jeremy Corbyn; and with the possible exception of Charlie Brooker, no-one anticipated the Prime Minister getting frisky with a pig's head. Allegedly.

In spite of the fact that he dresses in beige and looks a bit like your grandpa, Corbyn has brought an energy to British political debate that has been absent since before I can remember. Since Corbyn was elected, Labour has gained 62,000 new members, myself amongst them. To contextualise, that's more than the total membership of the Liberal Democrats. So, welcome to Brighton. Bring your unapologetically bad wardrobe, and your vision for a better tomorrow, and let's set out a roadmap to Number Ten.