what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Generalising about Art

What do wine and paintings have in common? It’s very difficult to write about each! They impact on our senses (palate and nose; eye and brain respectively). Hardly surprising therefore that writing about art and wine produces a lot of nonsense – with adjective heaped upon hyperbolic adjective in an effort to justify the writer’s arbitrary opinions. Books about these subjects, of course, are often very beautiful – but the text rarely keeps pace.
Since I began my serious collecting of Bulgarian realist painters, I’ve bought a fair number of books about art generally and about specific artists (even about collectors and dealers) but have to confess that I have learned very little. The three books on realist painting, for example, taught me only one thing – that the term is a slippery one!
My recent posts on Romanian realist painters of the early part of the 20th century were inspired by 7-8 little second-hand books from the 1970s and 1980s about individual artists which I picked up in Bucharest recently. Charming books – thick paper, great fonts and mounted reproductions (modelled, it seems to me, on the great little Skira books of the 1950s and 1960s) – much easier to read than the 900 pages of Paul Johnson’s Art; a new history which I did however thoroughly enjoy
Simon Schama’s "The Power of Art" may also be a bit unwieldy in its 450 page coffee-table style but does adopt the same useful focus on individual painters rather than style or eras – Caravaggio, Bellini, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gough and Picasso. And there is a nice blog which gives good detail on the background to individual paintings - eg some of Van Gogh's
For me, however, the most insightful stuff on painting remains the small book written in the 1970s by John Berger – Ways of Seeing. The link gives the full text. Although I did come across in a Sofia friend's flat a beautiful book about painting in 1920s Bulgaria which struck me as a great way to approach painting - capturing in one country how various painters relate to one another and the changing trends.

My viewings in the last few years of Bulgarian and Romanian art have led me wonder about the extent to which is it possible to generalise about a nation’s painting style. My little booklet on Bulgarian Realists ("Getting to know the Bulgarians through their paintings") gives brief notes about 140 Bulgarian painters – most of whom were born in the last decade the 19th century and before the First World War; I have not been able to find anything striking in Romania from the same period. The 10 great Romanian artists I mentioned in the last two posts were born some 30 years earlier (between the 1860s and 1880s) but seem to have been the last of their line. When Bulgarian landscapes and colours were blooming in their art, their Romanian colleagues were producing (for me) dark and insipid stuff.

If I am right, what is the reason? Romania was, of course, the larger country with a significant bourgeois class and attachments to French culture – Bulgaria more rural with freedom from heavy Ottoman rule going back less than two generations (the Romanian liberation was less significant for them because of the considerable autonomy they had won within the Ottoman Empire). The Bulgarian celebration (in their art of the early 20th century) of their land and peoples perhaps reflected a pride and spirit absent in the more cynical and worldly Romanian bourgeois?
And the paintings in the Bulgarian Orthodox Churches are so much more colourful (indeed sensuous) than in the dull and serious Romanians.
The first painting of Rila Monastery is by Mario Zhekov - the second (in my collection) by an unknown 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Two more realist Romanian painters of the early 20th century

Two painters were missing from yesterday’s list of important Romanian painters of the early 20th ;Century – one deliberately, the other because I was not aware of his significance.

I have never been particularly impressed with Theodor Pallady (1871-1956) but his name should be included in any such list.
Pallady was born in Iaşi, but at a young age, his family sent him to Dresden, where he studied engineering at the Dresden University of Technology between 1887 and 1889. At the same time, he studied art and was encouraged to go to Paris where he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts (Académie des Beaux-Arts). In 1892, he worked in the studio of Gustave Moreau, where he had as colleagues Henri MatisseGeorges Rouault, and Albert Marquet.
In 1904, Pallady returned to Romania but maintained close connections with Paris, where he continued to hold many personal exhibitions, up until World War II. He also exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1924, 1940 and 1942. A good website gives some of his paintings.

Stefan Dimitrescu (1886-1933) is a new one for me – and most impressive. Most of Dimitrescu's paintings take inspiration mainly from the life of simple folk, and especially from that of Romanian peasants and miners; they attempt to portray Romanian traditions and way of life, drawing on his encounters with both Byzantine art and the work of Paul Cézanne.
Part of his art (between 1926 and 1933) was inspired by his travels to Dobruja, and have been considered to be the most accomplished synthesis between his craft as a draftsman and his art as a painter.
Born in Moldova into a modest family, he completed his primary and secondary studies in his hometown. In 1902, deciding to follow his passion for music, he left for Iasi, where he took cello classes at the Iaşi Conservatory.
In summer of 1903, Dimitrescu entered the National School of Fine Arts in the city, studying in the same class as Nicolae Tonitza. After graduation, Dimitrescu painted murals for Orthodox churches in Bacău County. Between 1912 and 1913, he studied in Paris, at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, during which time he was attracted to impressionism
Drafted into the army at the start of the Romanian Campaign of World War I, Dimitrescu was profoundly touched by the experience, and began painting tragic pieces that documented the misery brought by the conflict. Like his friend Tonitza, he began exploring social themes, such as the effects of bombardments.
In 1917, along with the painters Camil RessuIosif IserMarius Bunescu, he founded the Art of Romania association in their Iaşi refuge. In 1926, Dimitrescu, with Oscar HanFrancisc Şirato, and Nicolae Tonitza, established Grupul celor patru ("The Group of Four").
He became a teacher at the Iaşi National School of Fine Arts in 1927, and, during the next year, he was named its headmaster (a position he held until his death). Towards the end of his life, Dimitrescu began expanding his palette to cover more somber colors, while exploring compositions in which the background was stripped of details and usually of a dominant white.
Some of his paintings can be seen on this website.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Romanian Realists of the early 20th Century

I’ve been a bit sniffy about the Romanian painting tradition. Compared with the Bulgarian it is certainly less accessible and more elitist – which is a reflection of socio-economic realities here. But it did have some real Masters in the late 19th Century  - starting with the classicist Theodor Aman (1831-91); the renowned impressionist Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907); and his friend, the tragically short-lived Ion Andreescu (1850-82)

The key realist painters who grew up in their shadow in the last part of the 19th century number about ten – with many having passed through the Munich Art Academy which was such an influence on the Bulgarians. Few are well known outside Romania (apart from Luchian) and they cost about ten times their Bulgarian counterparts. For each painter I give a video link.
Nicolae Vermont (1866-1932) had great landscapes; Stefan Luchian (1868-1917) is better known for his still-lives.
Then three of my favourites - Stefan Popescu (1872-1948) a great colourist (the river scene here) who has many North African landscapes;

Camil Ressu (1880-1962) with wonderful peasant scenes ; and Jean Alexandru Steriadi (1881-1956) with a lot of inspiration from the Black Sea (the painting at the top is boats at Braila).

Iosif Iser (1881-1958) was a very colourful artist - who gave us great figurative work ...of racetracks and Ottoman figures.

Nicolae Tonitsa (1886-1940) is well-known for his portraits - and the curious dark eyes of many of his figures.

Samuel Muntzner (1884-1959) is also a favourite - with river or sea generally present in his paintings.

Ciucurencu, Alexandru (1903-1977) had more time under the socialist regime than the others and has another video here

A general video on Romanian painting seems to confirm my belief that the worthwhile painters were born in the latter part of the 19th Century - and that would include the painters from the Nagybany school most of whom were technically Hungarian.
And another article indicates that my own preferences are fairly similar to more professional judgements

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Francophiles, Turkophobes.... and a Kipling poem

The Elephant (second-hand English) bookshop has now at last reopened in its more central location in Shishman St, Sofia. The books are more accessible – although still a few piled high. I emerged last week clutching 5 –one of which was Julian Barnes’ collection of essays on France - Nothing to Declare. He really is a superb writer!
You don't read Barnes to be transported into imaginary realms, or to encounter the struggle and pathos of humanity. You read him, rather, for that superior tone and for his voice; in many ways, his novels are all voice - amused, languorous, insouciant and arch. You read him for his hauteur, his gift of cultivated digression and for his riffs and anecdotes. Above all, you read him as an essayist, one of our best.
Nowadays, any newspaper columnist who can sustain an argument of more than 1,000 words is recognised as an essayist, but the popularity of the column or 'piece' is no more than an example of the cheap popularisation of the essay in a degraded culture. Dr Johnson called the essay an 'irregular, undigested piece'. That is right. The column is too regular, too finished; it's an easily digested piece. But the essay, as perfected by Montaigne, Charles Lamb and EB White, strives for literary permanence. It concerns the search for a personal voice, of the kind that animates the most successful offerings in Barnes's new book of essays about France.
Barnes first visited France in the summer of 1959. He was 13, on holiday with his parents, and was enchanted; he has been returning, at irregular intervals, ever since. France, it seems, is the idealised Other against which he measures all other countries, including England, and finds them, by contrast, a perplexing disappointment. He accepts many of the stereotypes about the French: that they are Cassanovan in sex and Machiavellian in politics; that they are 'relaxed about pleasure' and treat the arts 'as central to life, rather than some add-on, like a set of alloy wheels'.

Books about Turkey never fail to fascinate me and Tim Kelsey’s Dervish – travels to modern Turkey (1996)  was another book in my package. Most books I’ve read on the country are balanced if not positive – but
in vain will the reader search for passages on the splendors of ancient Ephesus, Cappadocia's fairytale landscape, pristine Mediterranean beaches, colorful bazaars or amusing anecdotes about friendly locals. Instead the author of “Dervish” paints an almost dystopian portrait of a country that, just a decade-and-a-half ago, appeared so full of contradictions that social, political and economic meltdown lay just around the corner.
It is, however, a gripping read - focusing on the marginal underside of Turkey - with chapters on transvestites and the minorities struggling for survival in the troubled south-east. It's all a good reminder of how far Turkey has travelled in the past decade. For those wanting a more rounded picture of the country, Hugh Pope recommends his best 5 reads on Turkey

The Sofia-Bucharest drive is one of the most civilised I know – and I know my central European roads! In 1991 I was based in Copenhagen and drove a lot to and from places such as Gdansk (when the first election campaign was underway); Berlin (in which I had an employer in 1992); Prague (where I worked and lived from 1991-93); Budapest (Miskolc and Nyíregyháza 1993-95); Bratislava (and Nitra 1996); and Bucharest.
Friday gave a superb, relaxed drive (despite the heavy snow of the previous days) – initially over the Balkans – arriving Bucharest at 4pm. And Saturday’s visit to the Humanitas and Carterescu bookshops bagged another 5 books – including a lovely poetry compendium (with CD) The Great Modern Poets ed by Michael Schmidt which contained this amazing 1917 critique of ruling elites written by a man usually associated with Victorian Imperialism – Rudolph Kipling
Our dead shall not return to us while Day and Night divide--
  Never while the bars of sunset hold.
But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
  Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

Shall we only threaten and be angry for an hour:
  When the storm is ended shall we find
How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
  By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

Even while they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
  Even while they make a show of fear,
Do they call upon their debtors,  and  take  counsel  with  their
     friends,
  To conform and re-establish each career?
                         
Their lives cannot repay us--their death could not undo--
  The shame that they have laid upon our race.
But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
  Shell we leave it unabated in its place?
I'm surprised this poem has not been dogging Tony Bliar as he is followed around by those wanting to have him prosecuted for war crimes for the death of so many people in the Iraq invasion and occupation. The poem was written in the aftermath of the British invasion a hundred years ago of...Mesopotamia

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Balkan bites and Russian robberies

I’ve not been in the mood for blogging since a Russian theft, a Bulgarian dog-bite and a Bulgarian eviction last week.
Early Wednesday morning a Russian stole into one of the (Russian) sleeping wagons - which are the only ones now to ply between Bucharest and Sofia (the great old German rolling stock of Bulgarian and Romanian railways have been progressively taken off since 2009) – and stole money from my sleeping partner who was coming for a visit. She woke while he was replacing the purse! With the help of a Bulgarian next door she immediately phoned emergency services - and saw police enter the neighbouring carriage at Pleven station.
 I was initially impressed with the squad of 5 transport police who were waiting for the train as it arrived on Wednesday morning and corralled all the passengers – the Bulgarians are fed up with the frequency and scale of the theft on this line. But she then spent 6 hours at the police station making statements; waiting while the Russians (who had locked themselves in their compartment and came out only when ordered by their Embassy) were being interrogated; and then trying to select the offender from a line-up. 
That was Wednesday. 
Thursday morning I was moving some paintings from the old to the new apartment and was bitten by a stray dog just outside the new place. Fortunately I had a physiotherapy appointment at the Military Hospital an hour later and was therefore able to have an immediate swab and anti-rabies injection. Apparently everyone gets bitten here – Bucharest (despite Brigitte Bardot’s antics) seems to have been able to get the stray dog problem under control by a programme of sterilisation. Here in Sofia there is only talk – no action. 
That was Thursday.
Friday morning came a phone call from my new landlady who had entered my flat without warning or permission and found the cat who adopted us last summer. I had told the Agency to inform her – but they failed. “No cats” she now says –  a soulless, cold and noisy flat and wild dogs have already alienated me and we reach an amicable agreement to part. By the next evening I was ensconced in a much more amenable old flat in the heart of old Sofia (Khan Khrum St) for 270 euros a month!   

The painting is "Patriots" by the powerful Sottish painter - Peter Howson - who has done a series of harrowing paintings from his experience of the Balkan Wars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Disaster facing Romania

A very tragic situation developing for Romania after Sunday’s parliamentary elections there – with the unholy alliance of ex-communists and liberals (???!!) getting 60% of a very low vote (40%) and the party associated with the much-hated and paranoid President Basescu getting only 16%. An Economist article puts the situation very bluntly -
According to the Constitution, Mr Basescu has the right to appoint the next prime minister, following consultations with the party that gained the majority of votes. (Art 103 of the constitutions says "The President of Romania nominates one candidate for the function of Prime Minister, after consulting with the party that has an absolute majority in the Parliament, or if one does not exist from one of the parties present in the parliament".)
The ruling alliance stated they want Mr Ponta to continue as prime minister for another four years( – but they are a coalition not a party). Basescu has repeatedly indicated that even if the ruling alliance gains a majority of votes, he will not nominate Mr Ponta.
Last week, Mr Basescu said he will appoint a prime minister who is pro-European, respects the Constitution and the rule of law and doesn’t have any hidden details on his resume that could make him an easy target for blackmail. Mr Ponta does not appear to fit the bill. The European Union has strongly criticised his government last summer following the cabinet’s attempts to take control of the judiciary and other public institutions. Mr Ponta was also accused of plagiarising his PhD thesis and lying in his CV. He denied all the allegations. 
One of the commentators in the subsequent discussion thread spells out what lies ahead -
Due to a friendly (and highly controversial) Constitutional Court ruling, the interpretation that the president operates under is that he can choose whoever he likes. But it’s clear that the spirit of the law, and of his constitutional role as a neutral arbiter are ignored. He is supposed to consult with the parties and assess which party's candidate has the best chance at forming a parliamentary majority. For the president to name whom he wish is aberrant and un-democratic. Why even consult with the parties if he can nominate whoever he wants? If we want to be technical, the president could even dissolve the parliament after two failed attempts at forming the government based on his nominations. This would mean that Basescu, based on this literal interpretation of the law, could repeated dissolve parliament and force new elections until the parliament (and thus the people) succumbed to his will and backed his nominee.
But alas, let's say the President is within his legal right to nominate as he alone chooses. Is this moral? Is this something that is in line with trans-Atlantic values? Are the people of Romania to be held hostage under the guise of respecting the Rule of Law where on the other hand democratic principles are being trampled? And I'm not even mentioning the issue of legitimacy. 7.6 million Romanians voted this past Sunday. 7.3 million voted for Basescu to be impeached in July. Reflect on this...these numbers are staggering!
However at the end of the day, Basescu has no leverage. If the president wants to be technical in his political fight then so can his opposition. If he doesn't nominate Ponta, the parliament will suspend Basescu again and the interim President will appoint Ponta. Another crisis, lost time, lost money, but ultimately the will of the people will prevail.
Poor Romanians! They face another impeachment of the President; attempts (as in Hungary) to make the Constitutional Court subject to corrupt parliamentarians and all other sorts of constitutional changes if the minority Hungarian party enters the coalition. What is left of Rule of Law is collapsing. And this is the country I'm driving back to in a few days (snow permitting!!)

Two years this time I had a post listing some of my favourite reading of all time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You are where you live

A Samuel Pepys - (or Marcel Proust -) type entry today.
Thanks to a couple of recent moves in my accommodation I’m seeing another side of Sofia. At the weekend I moved a little but further from the centre – trying to keep the rental low since I’m here only for a few months (if that) but would ideally like to keep somewhere to have as a base for my things and for the occasional visit. But I’ve been spoiled in the places I;ve had and just cannot adjust to the soullessness of these cheaper rented places. 
The young woman showing me the various flats told me the impact I had made when I said I needed bookshelves – “no one reads here” she exclaimed “but it does make people respect you!” And the lack of reading certainly shows in the absence, in any of the flats I looked at, of reading lights. I just don’t understand how people can live in places with only overhead lights! And what is advertised as “furnished” often means little more than kitchen facilities (often with dishwasher!), a bed, table and chairs. No cooking utensils, bedsheets, lamps or radio. Fortunately I travel with cooking stuff, don’t need television and had bought a couple of antique carpets for the bare floors – but unfortunately I need storage space for bikes and car parking facilities not too far away. 
So I’ve had to settle (for 300 euros a month) for a rather tawdry and shoddy new build-flat – largely on the basis that it seemed reasonably clean and had the space for my wheels! But I’m not sure how long I can put up with the place. 
I also have a hateful heating system (hot air being blown through air conditioners) simple because the central heating here in Sofia I so expensive. A monopoly supplier has forced more and more people to disconnect – driving the prices for those who remain even higher. So it is much cheaper to have electric heating which you control – particularly if you’re living there intermittently. 
I continue to enjoy walking (and cycling) around Sofia – even in the snow and ice which have graced the streets this week – the small shops and galleries (and cheap and pleasant eating and drinking) invite so (the Elephant second-hand Bookshop with English books has relocated into larger premises in the centre and opens today!) But the cosy small flats in Bucharest and Ploeisti are definitely beginning to beckon. 
Trouble is that I would have to dump the bikes (no storeage or cycling conditions up there) and also some of the paintings! Choices!

I was hoping to add to my little library on Bulgarian art by a visit to the underground second-hand bookshop at the University last week. It did indeed have quite a range of 1960s-1990s books on particular artists – but at extortionate prices for battered and nondescript things of less than 100 pages. The average price was 30 euros. What Bulgarian can afford such prices?
But, just 5 minutes (and hidden) away in a courtyard at Vassil Levski 87, there is a small second-hand bookshop which offers a not dissimilar range at a quarter of those prices. I got a couple of nice little books on the satirist -Stoyan Venev - and the shaper of Bulgarian painting - Jaroslav Vesin

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Press Liberties

The UK prides itself on its liberties – with freedom of speech and of the press being at the top of the list. But whose liberties have these really been? A few billionaires own most of the newspapers and journals - and famous figures (and governments) have been able to get judicial judgements muzzling coverage of certain issues which would be embarrassing to them. But when – thanks to the perseverance of a few people associated with The Guardian newspaper – the scale of phone-tapping by journalists of tabloids (the gutter press) was revealed (as well as questionable police behaviour), the government felt obliged to take the route all governments under pressure take – set up a commission of inquiry. In this case a judicial one. Lord Justice Leveson was asked to investigate and report on the 'culture, practices and ethics of the press'. For 17 months a variety of people (editors, journalists, police, politicians, those affected by press hounding) have appeared as witnesses - in public and under oath - and told their stories.
Such inquiries are a very British thing – it is a sign of firm action but gives the government a breathing space. And the issue can also be defused by writing the terms of reference in ways which exclude dangerous territory and/or by careful appointment of the chairman and members of the inquiry. By the time an inquiry issues its report, the issue may be forgotten. But in this case the public nature of the inquiry – with active television coverage – ensured that the issue remained a riveting one for the public – “did they or didn’t they (lie)??”
The Leveson report on press behaviour and ethics in the UK has just been issued. It’s a good (if long) read (a short version is here) and recommends that the present self-regulatory system of the press which has so patently failed be replaced by one with real teeth to enforce better practices. The judge is quite savage in his comments about the numerous opportunities editors and owners have been given to clean up their act. This, after all, is the seventh report on the subject in 70 years – one a decade! But the Government is resisting the idea of a statutory body with powers of fining. And some reputable people agree with him - Peter Preston, Simon Jenkins and Craig Murray. 
Murray’s post is perhaps the most interesting of the three contributions since he argues that Leveson was answering the wrong question -
British mainstream politicians are still more repulsive and self-seeking than the British mainstream media, and state regulation of the media, however modulated, is not good.
But Leveson was answering the wrong question.
The real problem is the ownership structure of UK mainstream media. Newspapers and broadcasters function as the propaganda tool of vast and intertwined corporate interests, shaping public opinion to the benefit of those corporate interests and ensuring popular support for politicians prepared to be complicit with those interests.
The only answer to this is to break up the corporate structure of the UK mainstream media. The legislative framework to do this is not difficult. What needs to be changed are the criteria. I would propose something like this; no organisation, state or private, should be allowed effective control of more than 20% of the national or regional newspaper market or the television market, or more than 15% of those combined markets.
The extraordinary thing is that Leveson specifically states that plurality issues do fall within his terms of reference, and that he must address them. He then completely fails to address them. At pages 29-30 of the executive summary of his report, he acknowledges that the current situation is unsatisfactory but makes no recommendations for change, only urging “Greater transparency on decision making on mergers”.
Leveson has provided us with the distraction of an argument about a regulatory body to look primarily at invasion of privacy abuse. The important factor for Leveson is not what Cameron or Clegg think of that idea. It is what Murdoch and the media corporations think of it, and the truth is that they could live with it, after huffing and puffing, because it would have zero effect on their financial bottom line.
But what Leveson has totally failed to do – and doubtless never had the slightest intention of doing – was anything that hurts the corporate financial interests. Leveson’s failure seriously to address the question of media ownership and its use in the nexus of commercial and political interests is itself an appalling act of establishment collusion. Very successfully so – in all the “debate” going on about the regulatory body, the media ownership question has completely vanished. Brilliant.
And this post gives some good examples of how the British press is no longer reporting the news
.....The fiasco of hypocrisy played out between Brussels, Berlin and Athens during 2009-11 soon stopped being a story about unbridled banking corruption, Greeks being groomed to lie about debt by Wall Street, and cynical bondholders buying debt purely in the hope of triggering default insurance. Within weeks it turned into Greek Crisis Live, endless meetings, men inside cars being driven about, new dawns being proclaimed, and complete bollocks about Greece being on the road to recovery.
About thirteen months ago, a tale of insanity about braindead German austerity economics and dodgy arms deals with Greeks quietly shifted scenes, and became Will Greece Be Kicked Out of the eurozone. Briefly six months ago, reality surfaced in the shape of respected debt dealers and economists saying Greek debt was unrepayable, and it was an obscenity to pauperise innocent Greek citizens while the bad guys got off scot-free. But within days that was pushed offstage in favour of yet more shuttle diplomacy, more all-night meetings in Brussels, more calls for Greece to face its responsibilities, north European politicians with their own unassailable debt mountains calling for yet more austerity, and a fantasy Fiskalunion being depicted as the Promised Land.
Today, the EU story is very obviously one about the eurozone being doomed, France being hopelessly exposed to Greek debt, Germany et al being hopelessly exposed to Spanish debt, the entire zone’s economy heading for the sewers, Greek politics becoming extreme, and the need for a total rethink on political Union between European nations.
But for the UK press, it has become a surreal saga about David Cameron ‘getting tough’ with Brussels, and his Party Rightists being jolly delighted about that. The media has been gone over with a fine tooth-comb by Justice Leveson in recent months. This bloke has now produced a 2,000 page report – does it really take that amount of verbiage to deal with the issues to hand? – but nowhere in his conclusions does it say that unelected media proprietors avoiding UK taxes wield enormous and unaccountable power to pervert the course of justice, policy, Cabinet responsibility, civic ethics, and our police forces............
Andrew Rawnsley is an astute observer of the processes of (rather than commentator on the substance of) British politics and put the reaction to the report in a very appropriate perspective -
Imagine we were talking about a 16-month, £5m, government-commissioned inquiry into abuses perpetrated by doctors or lawyers or members of the armed forces. Imagine that this inquiry had catalogued repeated illegality, systematic breaches of the profession's codes, the corruption of public officials, the compromising of political integrity and outrageous misconduct that had maimed innocent lives. Imagine that the report had arrived at the verdict that, while this profession mostly "serves the country well", significant elements of it were "exercising unaccountable power".
Imagine the prime minister who had set up that inquiry then responded that it was all very interesting, with much in it to commend, but he was going to park this report on the same dusty shelf that already groans with seven previous inquiries and allow this disgraced bunch one more chance to regulate themselves. We know what would be happening now. The newspapers would be monstering the prime minister as the most feeble creature ever to darken the door of Number 10. But since this is about the newspapers themselves, David Cameron has received some of the most adulatory headlines of his seven years as Tory leader. "Cam backs a free press," cheers the Mirror, for once in full agreement with the Daily Mail, which salutes as "Cameron leads the fight for liberty", and the Daily Telegraph, which hails "Cameron's Stand For Freedom" and the Sun, which stands to "applaud David Cameron's courage in resisting Lord Leveson". The prime minister's staffers are chuckling that he has generated some of his most glowing headlines by rejecting the cornerstone recommendation of his own inquiry.
If you can briefly suspend your cynicism about the whole thing and block your ears to the sound and fury that has accompanied the publication of Leveson, you'll see a fairly broad consensus about what needs to be done. Across the political parties and in much of the press there is considerable agreement that the report's principles are generally sound and many of the proposed remedies are sensible. The stark division is over whether it needs law – "statutory underpinning" in the rather hideous jargon – to put those principles into practice. As the Deputy Prime Minister rightly observed to MPs, it is an argument about "means" rather than "ends". The battle is no less fierce for that. And no less infected with some base motivation, among both politicians and the press, about what best serves their interests.