X Close

The Starmer glitterbomber I knew

Yaz Ashmawi gets his five seconds of fame. Credit: Getty

October 11, 2023 - 11:30am

“Whatever happened to Yaz Ashmawi?” I found someone asking at a university reunion a couple of months ago. With a penchant for marijuana, graphic design, playing the ukulele, calling everyone “man” and an academic interest in astrophysics, I presumed there had been a familiar trajectory. A short-lived rebellion, swiftly followed by an ascension into the international upper-middle class modelled by his Dubai-based parents. In other words, I had little interest in the answer. 

Yesterday, however, it was forced upon me. I watched my fellow alumnus of the University of St Andrews miraculously overcome security at the Labour Party Conference and practically straddle Sir Keir Starmer on stage. The subsequent flurry of glitter, posh shouting and an undignified departure beneath a scrum of security was a familiar sight for a Britain beset by an apocalypterati of environmental activists.

This time, though, the message had pivoted slightly. Ashmawi, who describes himself on Instagram as a strategist for Extinction Rebellion, was speaking on behalf of a new splinter group called People Demand Democracy. A letter published online and sent to both party leaders made clear their aims. A “House of Citizens”, they argue “will realign power in society,” bringing together people “like a jury” and providing time to hear from “experts and scientists to decide what policy is best for everyone”.

Five years since the founding of XR, its only tangible achievement is the creation of an almost unthinkable coalition of disdain: from Amazon delivery drivers to Financial Times columnists. This may have prompted Ashmawi’s latest move, heeding warnings from the likes of Lisa Nandy and George Monbiot that the movement is too middle-class, urban and — let’s face it — embarrassing. What they were now proposing to build was a sort of Rousseauian system of proportional representation, hoping to usher in an age of enlightened technocracy with a social contract drafted by the local Green Party.

Beyond the predictable media coverage, knowing Ashmawi personally highlighted a more obvious truth about the affair. With his incoherent politics and the fuss and blunder of his five seconds of fame, it became clear he has become a victim of a much sadder dilemma that has befallen graduates of some of our most elite universities over the last decade. 

This generation, including Ashmawi, has discovered the paradox that, in wanting to change the system, they have come to express its most grotesque facets. This is the absurd, self-defeating movement in which bored oil heiresses donate money to an organisation known to pay its members to disrupt commuters. In which the symbols and anchors of the civilisation they intend to save are routinely vandalised. In which the privilege of overeducation and wealthy parents afford the luxury of getting arrested and being a public nuisance with impunity. In which their antics find their most expressive outlet in the empty, insincere spectacle of digital media.

 “Luxury beliefs”, coined by the writer Rob Henderson, has become a term key to describing the disingenuous means by which more privileged members of society advocate for policies in order to confer status, while never having to put up with the consequences. The luxury protester, being a creature of a university system in which empty activism is sought to confer meaning, now falls for the same alienating folly. 

The logical trajectory of Ashmawi and his fellow luxury protestors therefore may suggest a more perverse irony. Even if they were correct in their apocalyptic diagnosis, they will only have themselves to blame for not mobilising support to prevent the world from burning around them. For the luxury protestor has found their message stuck in its own pathologically irritating medium. If they really want to save the world, they might want to think about stepping back from it.


Fred Skulthorp is a writer living in England. His Substack is Bad Apocalypse 

Skulthorp

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

4 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard M
Richard M
9 months ago

It’s a perfect storm of too many graduates whose reality is almost entirely mediated by social media, being churned out from universities in thrall to “critical” approaches, chasing careers within the progressive citadels of academia, NGOs, civil service, media etc. They end up flapping around protesting at everything.

The old school British Marxists weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they did at least cleave to a handed-down analysis of how things could be different. This new lot are mostly spoilt babies throwing attention seeking tantrums about how toxic everything is.

Mike Seeney
Mike Seeney
9 months ago

What a brilliant article on this deluded attention seeking clown and luxury beliefs in general!

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
9 months ago

This generation, including Ashmawi, has discovered the paradox that, in wanting to change the system, they have come to express its most grotesque facets. This is the absurd, self-defeating movement in which bored oil heiresses donate money to an organisation known to pay its members to disrupt commuters. In which the symbols and anchors of the civilisation they intend to save are routinely vandalised. In which the privilege of overeducation and wealthy parents afford the luxury of getting arrested and being a public nuisance with impunity. In which their antics find their most expressive outlet in the empty, insincere spectacle of digital media.

Great paragraph. Activism has become little more than a vacuous expression of performative art for the social media generation. How often do we see these people, upon making their public acts of dissent have an expression of smug, self-satisfied euphoria upon their face? They have not achieved their stated goal but rather their unstated goal of becoming a symbol in the face of tyranny.
They’d love to stand alone in the face of a column of tanks, just as long as there is no threat from an actual totalitarian state to crush them.
Bunch of LARPers.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

Like any cult, they are filled with lost and lonely people searching for answers and trying to find themselves. It’s kind of sad and pathetic really. I would be more sympathetic if they weren’t trying to destroy the world for everyone else.