HERE we go again. For the third time in as many years, the UK is going to the polls.
Prime Minister Theresa May has ripped up her promise not to hold a general election before 2020, meaning we are all now set to vote on June 8.
So what does the situation in Oxfordshire look like? On the face of it, most of our sitting MPs have comfortable majorities.
The Conservatives can confidently claim Banbury, Henley and Wantage, where there are majorities of around 20,000 or more, as ‘safe’ seats in the contest.
You could previously have counted Witney among that number too, where David Cameron commanded a majority of more than 25,000 in 2015, but last October’s by-election has felled incumbent Robert Courts’ lead to just shy of 6,000 votes.
This makes it likely to be targeted by the Liberal Democrats, who had a surprise surge against Mr Courts in their last run.
The Liberal Democrats have also set their sights on Oxford, according to party leader Tim Farron.
This might have seemed far-fetched previously. Nicola Blackwood, the Conservative MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, managed to increase her tenuous majority of just 176 in 2010 to more than 10,000 in 2015.
And Andrew Smith, Labour’s former candidate in Oxford East, won an impressive majority of 15,000 in 2015.
But Brexit could change everything. Mrs May has herself chosen to place the issue at the heart of the Conservative election campaign, pitching her party as the best choice to guarantee a stable exit from the European Union.
“Our opponents believe because the Government’s majority is so small that our resolve will weaken and that they can force us to change. They are wrong,” she said on Monday.
“They under-estimate our determination to get the job done and I am not prepared to let them endanger the security of millions of working people across the country, because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe.”
Mr Farron, meanwhile, has framed his party as the alternative to a so-called ‘hard Brexit’, which would advocate remaining in the European single market – and almost certainly under the legal jurisdiction of the EU, a red line for many who voted to Leave.
He is hoping that strong support for Remain in Oxford last June – 70 per cent of voters – makes it fertile ground for the Liberal Democrat message.
“The landscape has changed completely,” he said. “It is our view that only the people should decide on the final deal with the EU and the Government should not be given a blank cheque on something we will have to live with for generations.”
But it is still an outside bet that the Lib Dems could win in Oxford and there are Tories who think Mr Courts in Witney will end up needing more help than Ms Blackwood.
One senior figure said: “The safe money is on Robert but [the Lib Dems] could still give us a hard time in Witney.”
Labour, meanwhile, are more vulnerable then they might have been. Because Mr Smith is stepping down, a fresh candidate will have to sell the party’s message to the local electorate – potentially putting the 15,000 majority at risk.
There is still little chance of the seat flipping to another party, but Brexit, again, may play a factor. Mr Smith’s decision to respect the national outcome of the EU Referendum and support the triggering of the exit process in Parliament has drawn fire from some in his constituency.
The Lib Dems would be well-placed to capitalise on this. But another, and far more unpredictable, possibility is that this election will not be dominated by Brexit at all.
As people in Westminster are fond of saying, a week is a long time in politics. And this election campaign will last seven weeks.
Mrs May’s government has hardly been without controversy over the past nine months – what of the funding crisis in the NHS and social care, cuts in front line policing and controversial plans to create new grammar schools? Will these affect how people vote? Almost certainly.
Brexit is a potent subject but polls show the public is generally opposed to a second referendum on our EU membership. Will they be happy to comb over the subject again in any great detail?
Ultimately, it is Mrs May’s plan to steer the country through its most daunting challenge since the Second World War that will be front and centre – and she is likely to storm to victory. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t rule out political earthquakes just yet.