Theresa May only called the general election because the Liberal Democrats could have won Gorton, party leader Tim Farron has claimed.
Launching the Lib Dem election campaign at Cringle Park in Levenshulme, on the border of Gorton and Withington - both key targets - he said the possibility of a Labour loss on May 4 may have prompted the Prime Minister to realise now was the time to go to the polls.
The Gorton by-election was due to take place in just under a fortnight, but will now be wrapped into the June general election a month later.
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Internal Lib Dem figures had suggested their party, while being behind Labour, was polling as well as it had at the same point in the Richmond Park by-election last year - which they went on to win. © Provided by Trinity Mirror PlcCredits: PA
"I think the Gorton campaign, some could argue, might have triggered the general election," said Mr Farron.
"I think she called the election because she wanted to fight the Labour party in its current state - and probably heard some of the stuff we'd been saying about our Gorton figures.
"If Jeremy Corbyn could lose Manchester Gorton, the possibility the Labour Party might have got rid of Jeremy Corbyn was enough for Theresa May to think 'I'd better call an election' while he's still there. That seems to me a not implausible scenario."
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He said Gorton going to the polls in June rather than May could only help the Lib Dems, adding that support there was 'continuing to grow'.
"In Gorton we were moving towards the point where we could have won it on May 4, but the figures had us behind. The more time you get, the more time you have to come from behind to in front."
Asked whether taking credit for a general election many voters might not want was a good idea, he said: "People might be fed up of elections but they are, I think, not fed up of democracy." © Provided by Trinity Mirror PlcCredits: PA
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Gorton remains a key Lib Dem target over the coming weeks, while in next-door Withington , Manchester councillor John Leech is also hoping to win back his old seat.
Mr Farron said the former MP remained 'staggeringly well-liked', adding that Labour would be stretched far more thinly than previously when fighting to defend the constituencies.
He also insisted choosing the Lib Dems was the only way voters could elect a viable opposition to the Tories, but insisted he did not yet have a list of targets - or a figure for what a positive outcome would look like. © Provided by Trinity Mirror PlcCredits: PA
Meanwhile, in response to speculation about a future pact between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, he said 'in the next few days' he would be making an announcement.
But he said Labour activists were 'demoralised' while the Lib Dem view was 'bring it on'.
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While he conceded his party might not necessarily become the biggest opposition group in Westminster, he insisted it was the only one opposing Theresa May's plans, which he said amounted to "the hardest of Brexits that would make Nigel Farage blush".
Labour had chosen to become 'neither fish nor foul' in failing to oppose Article 50, he said, adding: "Being an opposition party doesn't mean you are an opposition, if you don't provide an alternative." © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc