When Jeremy Corbyn arrived in Brighton on Tuesday for yet another packed out rally, he was greeted by weather as unsettled as relationships in the district party.
One local activist describes the city, perhaps melodramatically, as being at the epicentre of the battle for the soul of the party.
Three weeks ago the party’s National Executive Committee suspended the Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party following claims of an improper ballot and abusive behaviour at the local AGM. The same meeting saw three pro-Corbyn candidates elected to the leadership team.
Mark Sandell was elected chair of the local party but his election has been annulled.On Tuesday evening, a leaflet handed out to people queuing around the Hilton hotel on the seafront set out his views.
It read: “Despite the false allegations and fake pretexts, there is only one thing members did wrong: they elected a new leadership team whose members made it clear they support Jeremy Corbyn as our leader.”
By contrast, the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Warren Morgan, a supporter of Owen Smith in the leadership contest, said he would stay away from Corbyn’s rally. He tweeted: “Brighton and Hove doesn’t need mass rallies of political activists. It needs a Labour Govt delivering fairer funding and opportunity for all.” Another councillor said the event was purely for Momentum supporters.
I wondered if the throng attracted by Corbyn could be composed entirely of true believers, and so I joined some of the people standing in the unseasonable drizzle as they waited to get into the event. I hoped to find some supporters of Owen Smith, but this proved to be as difficult as finding lapsed Catholics in St Peter’s’ Square on Easter Sunday – if they were there, they weren’t letting on.
The nearest I came to an agnostic was Pat Kehoe, 68, who told me she was unsure if Corbyn would lead the party to success in the general election.
She said: “I’d love for him to work but I have got reservations. Can I see him as prime minister? He’s too sincere. You have to be a bit puffed up and he is what he is.”
Student Thomas Soud, 18, said he was undecided about whether Corbyn was the right person to lead Labour – because the leader wasn’t left wing enough.
He said: “The next five years are going to be very turbulent. You have to keep in mind there is certainly going to be an economic crisis and that will push people to the left. This can empower Corbyn.”
Under Corbyn, the Labour party’s poll rating has slipped to dire levels. But those I spoke to were undeterred.
Ian Suberton, 51, said: “What about the polls? I want more of the same from Corbyn.”
A 40-year-old woman called Lucy (she didn’t want to give her surname) said she thought Corbyn supporters were reluctant to speak to pollsters. She said: “I don’t care about the polls. It’s like social media – people are afraid to say what they think in case there is a comeback.”
Finally, Valerie Phillips, 70, said she was convinced Corbyn could win an election.
“Look at all the people who came out to see him in Liverpool – more than 5,000. They’re not all lefties. He’s got charisma.”