I apparently have a shocking confession to make. In the past I’ve boarded a train with a standard ticket, found it so over-crowded that there was nowhere to sit – and then paid for an upgrade to first class.
Other than that you may not have thought newspaper proprietors travel standard class, there is – of course – nothing shocking here. Nothing involving a type of behaviour that could conceivably prompt outrage across Britain’s newspapers.
Yet that is exactly what happened to George Osborne last week. He got on a train at Wimslow, found it heaving with people, took a seat in first class and paid the surcharge. There was no row. No drama. No scandal to report.
Indeed Virgin Trains eventually confirmed that his aide sought out the ticket inspector to pay the difference the moment the train pulled out of the station. The whole event, it assured, was settled extremely “amicable”.
Yet that did not stop the incident becoming major news. Every newspaper and TV news bulletin gave it huge prominence.
And that was on a day not lacking in major news. To name but a few, Angela Merkel broke cover and called for the EU to dictate state’s budgets, Syria’s unrest spread into Lebanon, and Russia’s opposition movement organised an election for a leader.
None of these stories were as extensively reported as Osborne’s ticket upgrade.
Now that is something which is truly shocking.
The media is so preoccupied with the daily to-ings and fro-ings of politicians that it risks reducing political debate to little more than soap opera. In doing so it betrays its duty to provide the information the British public needs to make informed judgements on the issues that matter.
We saw the same phenomena over ‘pleb-gate’. Andrew Mitchell probably ought not to have lost it with a police officer. But the amount of newsprint and bulleting time that focused on the issue of who said what when was a disgrace.
How many subjects of real importance – like what economic model might enable us to balance the requirements of our welfare state with the challenge posed by China, or how the post-Arab Spring Middle East continues to disappoint the hopes of its Western supporters – were ignored as a result? In Russia the news - even the state-sponsored stuff - tends to deal with big issues and big stories, not hysteria about what may or may not have been said.
When I tweeted my frustration at this I was flooded with responses agreeing with me.
It is those in the media, not the public at large, who above all like to obsess on political scandals which are too often glorified tittle-tattle. There is a thirst out there for informed news. Certainly for more from political reporting than the journalistic equivalent of a bar-room brawl.
Which is why, here at Independent Voices, that is exactly what we intend to provide.