The collective sigh that went up in all corners of the Westminster Village on Tuesday morning was audible, like the last breaths of air escaping an already deflated balloon.
The prospect of another popular vote so hot on the heels of the last is a wearying one. The current crop of MPs face returning to their constituencies, many with war chests as heavily depleted as their enthusiasm for hitting the pavements, to canvass, convince and cajole an increasingly weary electorate to trudge – yet again – to the polls.
In the end, the electoral logic was irrefutable. Rebellious backbenchers were tying the PM’s hands in her negotiations with Brussels. She was being forced into unpalatable political U-turns because the manifesto she was sticking to didn’t chime with her political convictions nor her character. The House of Lords is becoming increasingly emboldened, with Peers willing to check the government’s ambitious plan for reform on everything from student immigration numbers to the triggering of Article 50. That the Labour Party is in such disarray that it is likely to hemorrhage seats even in its own heartlands is something of a bonus.
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, put in place under the Coalition government to provide some certainty to the electoral timetable, has proved to create little in the way of an obstacle to the calling of the latest snap election. The power to call a General Election now rests with the House of Commons, rather than the Prime Minister. Corbyn declared that he would welcome the opportunity to go up against Ms May in the polls, despite the prospects of a routing. And like the proverbial turkeys voting for Christmas, MPs agreed to the motion to hold an early election by a majority of 509 votes.
So the party political machines have swung into action once again. May and Corbyn have kicked off their respective campaigns, parking their battle tanks on the lawns of Bolton and Croydon respectively. Theresa May returned to the winning ‘coalition of chaos’ that worked so unexpectedly well in 2015. Corbyn struggled to clarify whether or not Labour would rule out a second Brexit referendum and tried to wrestle the debate back around to education and tax. Tim Farron, whose party potentially has a lot to gain come June 8th, started his campaign in typical Lib Dem fashion by being thrown off topic almost immediately.
The battle lines are being drawn and the runners and riders are making themselves known. George Osborne will be fighting the election from the editor’s chair at the Evening Standard, rather than from his soon-to-be former Tatton constituency. Ex-Home Secretary Alan Johnson and Labour Party stalwart Michael Dugher have also decided to stand down. The most indecisive man in Westminster, Douglas Carswell, also announced his plans to quit the Commons just weeks after quitting UKIP, to which he defected from the Tories in 2014. Nigel Farage has also decided to rule out an eighth attempt at winning a seat in Westminster.
We might see some familiar faces return to the benches, with the Lib Dems heaving some of their Big Beasts out of retirement to fight the seats they lost two years ago – Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and Ed Davey are all dusting off their yellow rosettes and preparing to re-enter the fray.
Take a deep breath, only 47 days to go.