We know enough about Theresa May to recognise that her decision to call a snap election a week ago will be have been the most carefully considered of her life.
One doubts the prime minister is ever complacent regarding any event that contains inherent risks but she can only have concluded, as so many of us had, that there could hardly be a more providential moment to supplant a small parliamentary majority with a large one.
What she can hardly have predicted but perhaps is now privately relishing is the reaction of her opponents. Since last summer, A. C. Grayling, Jolyon Maugham and their recalcitrant band of followers have declared the referendum constitutionally invalid and have decried her stewardship of its outcome as that of an unelected prime minister without a mandate. Her now seeking this very mandate has only elicited even more apoplexy across social media.
This election has become, by proxy, a second referendum on Brexit – one that May has called, as she always could, at a time of her choosing.
What has been fascinating this weekend is surveying the array of fantastical propositions launched to promote “tactical voting” and the like by those who oppose the Tories or still want to reverse Brexit. Websites designed such as this to help you find the best candidate to beat the Tories, plus crowdfunded campaigns such as this from Compass and this from Gina Miller have breathlessly launched to promote progressive alliances that don’t actually exist.
You have to admire the optimism that generates these innovations, but for all their ingenuity they are doomed to fail. They are solutions to problems that don’t exist. Progressives have an elemental challenge: they don’t have the numbers. They need a bigger cake before they even contemplate slicing it up. The fundamentals are against them. All the sardonic tweets of all the comedians in the world, imploring young people to register to vote will not change the outcome of this election.
In the meantime the real numbers game in this election has been won with ease by the Tories in the first week of this campaign. Their hoovering up of 2015 UK voters and 2016 Leavers (who didn’t vote in 2015) has swelled already unassailable Tory poll leads to new heights. What the tech savvy if psephological ignorant faux-disrupters seem not to understand is that the electoral appeal of opposing Brexit is diminishing with every passing day and should their putative attempts to “hack the election”, as they see it, elicit any support it will only benefit the Tories, who will once more summon the spectre of Sturegon/Corbyn in No 10 as they did so successfully in 2015.
What this opening week of campaigning has demonstrated is that there is indeed an insurgent force in British politics, and improbably it is the Conservative Party. Their joint raids of the northern and Welsh working class and the Scottish unionist votes is the most audacious swoop by any political party since Blair in the mid 1990s. Cannibalising UKIP and popularising Ed Miliband’s policies are other signs that for all her redoubtable caution May is much more cunning and strategic than she has been given credit for. In an otherwise dull election the Tory manifesto might just be the most interesting moment.
Theresa May is living proof that in politics you don’t need be a novice to be an insurgent, sometimes staying power will suffice, and no one, it seems, has more than the prime minister.