The NS Interview: Sienna Miller

“People often forget that celebrities are no different”.

Does the press scrutiny that you are subject to frustrate you?
Of course, but I also understand that a certain amount goes with the territory. What I hope to do is to use my visibility to make a positive difference in the world, not in the press.

How do you make that difference?
I have always done work in the charitable sector, and like to think that I always will. I also find that I need to balance the world I live in with something humanitarian, for my own sanity, if nothing else.

Which charities do you work with, and why?
I got involved with International Medical Corps (IMC) through a friend who attended a benefit of theirs in Los Angeles. I had heard about the virtual epidemic of brutal rape in Congo and, once I saw them in action and realised that there are so many emergencies around the world where they are doing life-saving work, I decided that I wanted to help.

You travelled to Haiti. What were your impressions of the country?
The people are incredibly resilient and have a wonderful spirit. Obviously, the city of Port-au-Prince is in trauma, and seeing the devastation first hand was shocking.

What needs to happen?
Supplies are limited and IMC people are working in incredibly difficult conditions, so money genuinely equates to the ability to save lives.

You also went to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why does it get so little attention?
Congo has been a problem for such a long time that perhaps people have given up. Africa is riddled with so many problems that it is hard to know where to begin.

Why do we forget so quickly about these disaster-stricken countries?
I think that it is difficult for all of us, after an inevitable media saturation, to continue seeing heartbreaking images of a country in need. I don't blame the media. It is a human condition to feel overwhelmed.

People can be cynical about celebrity support of charities. How do you respond?
People become involved with charities because the cause is resonant and personal for them, and because they want to bring about some meaningful change. People often forget that celebrities are no different. What is different is that they have the power and ability to use their position to shine a light on causes and issues that might otherwise have been ignored.

What impact have you had personally?
When I have spoken out for IMC, they have noticed spikes in web traffic and donations. So, while it is easy for people to be cynical, if I see it translating positively for the organisation, I will continue to do the work, regardless.

Do you feel that the press and the public judge celebrities too readily?
There are blogging sites that are scrutinised by both young and impressionable people which are creating and encouraging this negativity. Some of those in a position of media power make it seem acceptable to judge people they have never met, using "information" that is ­often not true.

What effect do you think such a culture has on young people?
It really worries me to think that there is a generation of haters being groomed by these essentially faceless and reckless people.

If you weren't an actress, what would you be doing?
Archaeology?

Do you vote?
Since learning about the suffragettes, I vowed I would always vote. And I did, but won't say for whom .

Which political figure inspires you?
Nelson Mandela, for obvious reasons.

Where's home?
London.

What are you reading at the moment, and why?
A book called A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore, because I am in a book club, and that was recommended to us!

Is there a plan?
A vague one, but I still try to live as spontaneously as possible. It's difficult to be an actor and make plans.

Is there anything you regret?
Of course, but I have found regret to be a rather useless emotion. Live and learn and try to grow, if you know what I mean.

Are we all doomed?
Absolutely not. We are part of a generation that can and will change this world. It's an exciting and pivotal time to be alive.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 31 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The war on the veil

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times