It’s all kicking off again in Westminster.
September has delivered a deluge of political developments, and Populus’s reality check poll shows that the public are firmly focused on the grand Brexit narrative rather than other stories from inside the Westminster bubble.
A fraught month of political manoeuvring culminated last week in a Supreme Court judgment declaring Boris Johnson’s attempt to suspend parliament unlawful, and that is where public focus presently lies. The prorogation affair became the most noticed news story for the second time this year (mentioned by 37 per cent), followed by those recalling Brexit more generally (28 per cent).
Before that, Brexit and Boris Johnson’s frustrated attempt to initiate an election easily topped the poll for three straight weeks (peaking at 69 per cent). One way or another, an exceptionally high proportion of the public continue to pick up on news related to Brexit week in and week out.
Other political stories have been pushed down the agenda. The Labour conference initially promised a news cycle of internal divisions and bold legislative pledges. But anything about the way Johnson handles Brexit supersedes this. Last year, 12 per cent of the public said that the Labour conference was their most noticed story of the week, and 10 per cent the year before, but this time it was only a fraction of 1 per cent.
We should avoid interpreting this simplistically. Labour’s conference could still work towards changing voters’ minds at the edges. But by far the greater story is the tussle between Johnson on one side and opposition MPs and the courts on the other.
People generally do not concentrate on the smaller details and the ‘psychodramas’, like Jo Johnson or Amber Rudd resigning from the cabinet and giving up the Conservative whip.
And they are also far less interested in the Prime Minister’s other activities than whether or how he gets us out of the EU.
Accusations about a conflict of interest involving a businesswoman and Boris Johnson during his time as Mayor of London have played second fiddle to the Supreme Court verdict, with only a small handful of respondents recalling the new allegations as their most noticed story.
Then there was the furore in the Commons over his dismissal of the purported link between provocative language and violence against MPs as “humbug”. This broke midway through the poll fieldwork, but the early signs are that it is a much smaller story outside of the bubble than within it.
There was also the small matter of the President of the United States facing an impeachment inquiry for allegedly encouraging a foreign power to undermine one of his political opponents. A bombshell of this kind would usually secure a good chunk of British public attention, but when set against the defining issue at home, it was the most noticed story for less than 1 per cent.
Brexit is not going to stop sucking up all the attention. The third deadline finally comes into sight in October, but it would be no surprise if the never-ending story continues.
Populus interviews a nationally representative sample of at least 2,000 British adults every week, and asks what news story they had noticed the most. The question is open-ended and participants can name any story.
Will Clothier is a consultant at Populus
Will is a Consultant at Populus where he has delivered stakeholder research projects for household names across a range of sectors including sport, telecoms, culture, food, and leisure – advising clients on the views of politicians, journalists, and industry leaders. Recent stakeholder clients include the Premier League and BT.He researches public opinion quantitatively and qualitatively for political organisations, government departments, and businesses. Recently he has analysed public attitudes towards ‘populist’ economic policies post-Brexit, and the political attitudes of voters in different parts of the country. He works within Populus’s Reputation and Strategy division, having joined the company as a Research Executive. He graduated from Durham University with a first class degree in English Literature and holds the Market Research Society Advanced Certificate with a double merit.