10 things we've learned from the election campaign this week

Andrew Sparrow
Theresa May walks out of 10 Downing Street to announce a snap general election. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Three days after the prime minister sprang one of the biggest political surprises for years, here are 10 key takeaways from the beginning of the race.

1 Theresa May is a better actor than any of us thought

Most MPs and commentators accepted that when she firmly ruled out an early election she meant it, but she proved more ruthless and less honest than hitherto supposed. Not that that seems to matter because …

2 Voters don’t seem to mind being made to endure another campaign less than a year after the EU referendum and two years after the last general election

Polls this week have shown the Conservative lead going up, and a Guardian/ICM survey found a majority of people saying May was right to change her mind and call a snap election.

3 For all her doubts about David Cameron, May is quite happy to rerun his 2015 election campaign

Her main pitch is that she offers “strong and stable leadership” (Cameron tended to keep it to “strong leadership”) and, using a phrase coined by him two years ago, she is accusing Labour of offering “a coalition of chaos”.

4 Labour have come up with a new definition of rich: earning more than £70,000 a year

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, cited the figure in a Today interview on Radio 4 when asked to define “rich”, making the point that Labour would not penalise all higher-rate taxpayers (on more than £45,000). Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, later conceded that some people on £70,000 may not actually feel rich. Nonetheless, the data shows they are better off than 95% of the population.

5 The Fixed-term Parliaments Act turned out to be in the chocolate teapot category of uselessness

All those assumptions about how it would prevent a prime minister calling an early election turned out to be unfounded when, after a low-key, 90-minute debate, the Commons passed a motion to override it by 522 votes to 13 because Labour MPs felt it was impossible for them to say no to dissolving parliament.

The Fixed-term Parliament Act. Photograph: Nestle UK/PA

6 May won’t take part in election debates

No 10 is indicating that she will take part in election programmes such as Question Time. But despite people assuming that debates are now a fixed part of the national election furniture, she won’t go face to face against Jeremy Corbyn. She says she wants to knock on doors instead, although given that 8 million people watched the 2015 ITV debate involving Cameron, this strategy won’t have quite the same reach.

7 The aid spending target is safe

But the Tory commitment not to raise income tax, national insurance and VAT is not. We have not had the manifestos yet, but after two days of equivocation May finally committed to keeping the pledge to spend 0.7% of national wealth on aid. Another Cameron-era pledge, not to increase three key taxes, looks set to vanish, however, after Philip Hammond, the chancellor, said he needed to be able to manage the economy “flexibly”.

8 The campaign is going to get dirty

We had a taste of that this week when Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, claimed Vladimir Putin was rooting for a Corbyn victory because of the Labour leader’s “feebleness” on defence. Much more of this is expected.

Nigel Farage at the European parliament in Strasbourg. Photograph: Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

9 Surprisingly, Nigel Farage is a champion of the European parliament

Explaining his decision not to stand again for the Westminster parliament, the former Ukip leader said it was more important for him to remain an MEP in Brussels because there he had “a front seat where it matters most [for the Brexit talks]” and he could use his profile “to put real pressure on MEPs to vote for a sensible deal”.

10 George Osborne is no better at meeting newspaper deadlines than deficit reduction deadlines

After deciding to stand down as an MP, he gave the story to the Evening Standard, where he is taking over as editor. But he missed the print deadline for the day’s paper.

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