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Poetic charge sheet

Tony Benn reviews Michael Horovitz's powerful new anti-war polemic

January 30, 2008
4 min read

In his new book, A New Waste Land, Michael Horovitz has deployed all his many talents to produce a passionate, poetic and immensely powerful polemic against Tony Blair’s New Labour administration for the policies he pursued as prime minister – and in particular his wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, his threats to Iran and his consistent and deliberate deception of the British public and parliament to justify his actions.

For those who have been advocating a war crimes tribunal to arraign him and President Bush this poetic charge sheet could be used by any lawyer as a brief to guide him in preparing his case. Since no such trial has ever taken place A New Waste Land will remain on the record as a reminder for all those around the world who do not wish these crimes ever to be forgotten.

Michael was disappointed that the hopes raised in 1997 were so quickly dashed. Even those who, like myself, never expected as much as he did, find it hard to believe that it went as badly wrong as it did.

His style is brilliant using historical quotations, pictures, cartoons and poetry laid out in a way that elevates it to the level of art to make his point and it is effective in a way that no speech could do. Thoroughly researched, with footnotes to justify his assertions, he tackles a wide range of subjects, ranging from atomic weapons to privatisation as a deliberate instrument to diminish the role of the electorate and transfer the power back to the powerful economic forces that today dominate the political process so comprehensively.

Reminded of Hiroshima, we see the decision to renew Trident in its proper historical context as a conscious decision to maintain weapons of even greater power that could – if ever used – inflict death and destruction on millions of innocent people.

Palestine’s unanswered pleas for peace and justice feature strongly, and we are reminded of the wicked practice of unspeakable torture that we have come to accept, as well as the rendition process, which makes it easier to transport the victims to countries where it can be done in secret, leaving the perpetrators to deny their own responsibility.

A New Waste Land was published on the 250th birthday of William Blake and, wherever his spirit now rests, Blake will be proud to read such a clear re-statement of the principles that he enunciated and that have – as this book will have – a permanent place in the libraries of the world and in the minds of those who read them.

But horrific as the picture Horovitz paints may be, we must never allow it to drive us into pessimism about the future, for hope is the fuel of progressive movements and fear is a prison into which we confine ourselves. Knowing Michael’s indomitable spirit I am sure that he too retains the hope we shall need if a peaceful and just world is to be built – as it must be.

‘Timeship Earth at Nillenium’

(from A New Waste Land)

Is not a reverence



for life


– for all land, sea and air



the path Jesus struck,

Shock and Awe Basher Bush,

Trade and War Preacher Blair?




Have you no shame?

How could you claim

to follow Christ

when your fame has spread

so many dark days and nights

with more dead

across so many lands, from your hands




famed oily blood brothers

who wrought so much hurt, loss and fright

– dread of so many children and mothers



with your gospel of markets and self-righteous might

whose weapons ignite still more terror and plight

filling land, sea and air

with endless infection, bombs and despair

‘Love thy neighbour

as thyself’

– NOT

‘An eye for an eye’


is what Jesus preached,

Big Top Barker Bush,

and your yapping

Dog-collared Upsucking

Mascot Blair



A New Waste Land (New Departures) is available, price £25 hardback, £15 paperback, from Central Books www.centralbooks.com

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