So, politics can still bring surprises. In a world where pretty much every major political announcement is trailed in the media, politicians and their advisers can indeed still keep a secret. And no prime minister can look at opinion polls that promise an absolute romp home without ultimately giving in to temptation.
What else did we learn today?
We learned that the prime minister’s astute positioning during last year’s referendum – keeping her head down and emerging as the ultimate victor – wasn’t some fluke. In calling an election from such a position of strength, she will generate her own mandate, and establish her own terms of doing business.
Her line that "the country is coming together but Westminster is not" is an exceptionally shrewd one, although many will of course observe that calling what is by its very nature a divisive thing – an election – in the name of unity is hardly new.
In ordinary political times, the insistent previous messages that there was simply not going to be an early election might cause the government difficulties. As might the fact that a PM who at least notionally was in the Remain camp will run on a manifesto of hard Brexit. But these are most certainly not ordinary political times.
A few things now are certain:
· Jeremy Corbyn has seven weeks left as Labour leader
· The PM will negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU with a strong mandate
· The Liberal Democrats are back in business
What are the themes that we will see over the coming weeks?
The PM will run on the Baldwin-esque ticket of unity, strength and competence. As an un-showy politician, this campaign will be a risk-free, low razzmatazz one, emphasising her core attribute that she offers certainty in uncertain times.
Labour will presumably struggle to put together a coherent and appealing manifesto, given its very public divisions. There will be plenty of public events, and at times – perhaps all the way – Labour will believe that the reception it receives bodes of electoral success. Which, of course, it will not.
The Liberal Democrats will try to turn this election into a second referendum. Its campaign will have Europe running all the way through. It has been the party's salvation. In contrast stands UKIP. These are going to prove very troublesome times for the party.
As for the media, it is hard to imagine a tough time being given to the Tories. I’d predict that this will make 1992 and the papers’ demolition of then Labour leader Neil Kinnock appear rather a tame affair. They will be going after Corbyn in a manner probably never seen before – and a man who hosts photo opps in a train loo is certain to provide them with plenty of ammunition.
Will social media have a role? Of course it will. Pundits will talk about this being a turning point for digital’s political influence. And it will doubtless entertain, inform and misinform us all. But the main thing it will do is this: it will reinforce our existing prejudices; it will tell us that our side is going to win; and then many of us will scratch our heads at the result – because just as in the referendum, all of our Twitter followers just shouted our own messages back at us.
One final thought. And it’s for the pollsters. At last, an election they surely cannot call wrong. Phew.
Francis Ingham is the director general of the PRCA.