February saw the genesis of an aspiring new force in British politics. But have the public noticed?

Populus polls 2,000 British adults each week to find out which news story, political or otherwise, the public have paid most attention to during the course of that week.

In one of the boldest attempts to shake up the party system in recent decades, seven MPs simultaneously announced their resignation from the Labour Party on Monday, February 18, followed by another three Conservative MPs the next day.

They will be pleased to know that it did not go unnoticed.

One in five members of the public (19 per cent) recalled the formation of the Independent Group as the story they had paid most attention to that week. That might not sound high, but for a story focused on Westminster politics it represents a relatively significant cut- through.

Behind Brexit, it is one of the most noticed news stories of the new year. But it remains to be seen whether those initial indications of momentum will persist.

Those who mentioned TIG were twice as likely to be men than women, twice as likely to be aged 65 or over than to be 34 or under, and two and a half times more likely to be in the AB socio-economic group (managers and professional occupations) than the DE group (semi-skilled and manual workers). Concentrated attention of this kind is not uncommon for stories involving Westminster politics.

To place this in its proper context, the new political group received half as much attention as Shamima Begum (39 per cent), the teenager from Bethnal Green who joined Islamic State. With human interest, controversy, and an evocation of broader issues, this had many of the hallmarks of the news that penetrates most deeply.

The story’s most captive audiences — women, younger people, and those in the DE socio-economic groups — were demographically oppositional to those of the Independent Group. But above all, the public continue to find it hard to avoid Brexit. An apparent air of anticipation elevates the public’s attentiveness to it month after month (reaching 70 per cent at the beginning of February), even when not much is happening.

Brexit continues to shield other major stories from the limelight. The crisis in Venezuela, the collapse of the US-Russia nuclear missiles pact, and sombre economic forecasts from both the Bank of England and the Office for National Statistics all failed to achieve more than a 1 per cent share of attention throughout February.

It is this heightened alertness to British political matters, at the expense of most other news, on which the Independent Group will hope to capitalise.

Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of at least 2,000 British adults aged 18 and over each week, and they were asked what news story they had noticed the most. The question was open-ended and participants could name any story.

Originally published by The Times Red Box on March 4 2019.