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UK Labour leader goes from no-hoper to crowd-puller

Leader of UK's Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn winning over voters

READING: For a radical socialist written off by many as a no-hoper leading Britain's Labour Party to its worst ever election defeat on June 8, Mr Jeremy Corbyn is pulling in big crowds.

The 68-year-old peace campaigner has been speaking at modestly-attended fringe rallies and demonstrations for decades. But he now seems to have more of an audience.

In a leisure centre car park on the outskirts of Reading, 64km from London, more than 1,000 people gathered in the middle of a working day, leaving behind their desk jobs and even climbing trees to catch a glimpse of Mr Corbyn.

"He's a normal person, which I think resonates," said Ms Trish Whitham, a former Green Party voter who had travelled around an hour to get to the Corbyn rally - the first she had ever attended.

"People have complained about him being a bit scruffy so he's smartened up a bit, but he's never going to be a media person, he's never going to conform to what the media wants him to be - which is another thing I really like him for."

Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in April when she was riding high in opinion polls, hoping for a landslide win on a par with the era-defining victories of Mrs Margaret Thatcher in 1983 and Mr Tony Blair in 1997.

But Mrs May's lead has shrunk from more than 20 percentage points to as little as five, according to opinion polls, though all major polls put Mrs May in the lead.

Another who attended Mr Corbyn's rally said he was curious about a politician who appeared genuine.

"I heard they were coming and I'd seen on the news how great some of his rallies were so I thought I'd come down and check it out," said Mr Jason Guy, 28, an insurance worker who joined Labour a week ago after reading Mr Corbyn's manifesto.

"He doesn't seem like other politicians where it's just full of fluff and constant regurgitation of slogans; he seems to actually mean what he says."

After losing a second successive national election in 2015, Labour took a sharp turn to the political left. It picked Mr Corbyn, a rank outsider who just scraped enough nominations to make it into the contest, to lead the party in a new direction.

And by attracting thousands of zealous young new supporters and re-engaging hard-left activists who had abandoned the party under Mr Blair, Mr Corbyn has created a power base that helped him survive an attempted coup by party moderates last year. - REUTERS

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