READING (England) • For a radical socialist written off by many as a no-hoper leading Britain's Labour Party to its worst 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 now seems to have more of an audience. In a leisure centre carpark on the outskirts of Reading, some 60km 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 doesn't seem like other politicians where it's just full of fluff and nothing, and constant regurgitation of slogans; he seems to actually mean what he says," said Mr Jason Guy, a 28-year-old insurance worker who joined Labour a week ago after reading Mr Corbyn's manifesto.
Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election last month 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 3 points, according to opinion polls, though all major polls put Mrs May in the lead.
After losing a second successive national election in 2015, Labour took a sharp turn to the political left. They 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. Mr Corbyn's drive to align Labour more closely with its socialist roots and eschew the pro-business centrist platform championed by three-time election winner Mr Blair has split the party.
By attracting thousands of zealous young new supporters and re-engaging hard-left activists who had abandoned the party under Mr Blair, Mr Corbyn created a power base that helped him survive an attempted coup by party moderates last year.