Expecting the unexpected with May’s surprise gamble
As political drama goes, Theresa May’s announcement of a snap election caught the political world off guard. So will the gamble of going to the country pay off and how will the parties fare in Kent, a key electoral battleground? Political editor gives his
Catching people by surprise is a useful skill in politics and Theresa May knew her unexpected announcement would put her rivals on the back foot.
True, she had previously ruled out an early election but she appealed over the heads of MPs by saying that while the country was united, Westminster was not.
What was needed was a strong mandate to secure a strong Brexit, she argued.
It is a simple message and simple messages often appeal to voters.
One practical problem for rival parties is they are already a step behind. Most have no candidates in place to get campaigning under way to take on incumbent Conservatives with, in many Kent seats, sizeable majorities.
For Labour, the election could not have come at a worse time. Its poll ratings are in free fall and it will have to campaign with Jeremy Corbyn as leader – whose own ratings are falling through the floor.
The odds that it can roll back large Conservative majorities in what has reverted to true blue Kent are pretty long.
As for Ukip, the party that arguably did most to secure Brexit, in-fighting, defections and public rows have conspired to make it seem as divided as Labour.
It has viewed Kent as a stronghold but its ex-leader, Nigel Farage, failed to become South Thanet MP in 2015.
He may not have the appetite for a rerun in a seat which saw an attritional battle that ended in a bruising defeat.
The party could lose ground at the county council election, where it took everyone by surprise in 2013, leaving it with little impetus for the national poll just one month later.
The Liberal Democrats have some modest grounds for optimism. It has presented itself as the party for proEuropean voters and secured some impressive council by-election gains since its low point in 2015.
In Kent, it could gain some momentum if it performs well in the county council election but is still recovering from a very low base.
An increased share of the vote is certain but can that translate into seats? Watch for an interesting contest in Maidstone and the Weald.
Theresa May has gambled that the British voters will give her the endorsement she says she needs to get the best deal for the UK from leaving the EU.
On paper, it is hard to see beyond the Conservatives tightening their grip on the county and successfully defending all their seats.
But one thing politics has taught us in recent years is to expect the unexpected.
It will be in the back of Conservative minds right up until polling day on Thursday, June 8.
Theresa May said while the country was united, Westminster was not