A tribute to Anita Roddick

Clive Stafford Smith pays tribute to the Bodyshop founder and campaigner who died this week aged 64

I had two hours’ worth of coffee with Anita Roddick a couple of weeks before she died, and she was effervescing with energy. She had long been a supporter of Reprieve, the charity I work for, and I was overjoyed that she had agreed to take on the role of leading the Board. She was to chair her first meeting later this month, and we were discussing the future.

She was full of ideas – what were the challenges we had to meet? What were our strengths? Could we bring the staff to her house for a couple of days, and draw up a battle plan for the next year? How could we ensure that more young people turned their lives to helping the men, women and children held on death row around the world, or isolated in secret prisons?

Anita had long been famous, the woman who took on the establishment and reintroduced ethics to capitalism at the Body Shop. It was always going to be that way. When she first left school, she dabbled in acting, and tried teaching English and History at her old school, Maude Allen Secondary Modern in her home town of Littlehampton, West Sussex. She married Gordon in Reno, in 1970, and they both dabbled some more, running a bed-and-breakfast and a restaurant. But these were only rehearsals for the business she began to nurture when she dispatched Gordon off on his own dream, a two-year horse ride from Buenos Aires to New York.

She set up the first Body Shop near home and had parlayed it into two stores before Gordon returned. The example of her fair trade rules at first irritated the competition, but eventually forced them to adopt similar guidelines of their own. Good business became big business, and by the early 1990s the company was valued at £900 million.

When she eventually sold the company to L’Oreal in March 2006, she immediately ploughed millions into the Roddick Foundation, supporting charitable causes that included Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Shelter, the Big Issue, CND and, very generously, our own work at Reprieve. She believed that the desire to die rich was pointless, even obscene.

I had first come across her when I was living in New Orleans, representing death row prisoners, and she came campaigning for the Angola Three – men who had been sentenced to life in prison in Louisiana for allegedly killing a prison guard thirty years before.

They were tagged with the name of the infamous State Penitentiary, formerly a plantation for slaves from Angola. These three black men had never had a chance of a fair trial. Yet how would a privileged British multi-millionaire, daughter of Jewish-Italian immigrants, come to care for these African-American men four thousand miles away? Many Europeans might oppose capital punishment, but these men did not even have the death sentence to make them politically attractive.

Over the years certain cynics suggested she adopted left-leaning causes as a scheme to promote the Body Shop. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even before she first read a book on the Holocaust at the age of ten, Anita was committed to eradicating injustice. It did not matter if the inequity stemmed from human cause, or the arbitrary hand of nature. When she learned that, more than thirty years earlier, a blood transfusion had infected her with Hepatitis C, when she gave birth to her second daughter, Samantha, she chose to turn her misfortune into a cause, and in February 2007 she made herself a public advocate for better diagnosis and treatment. She also saw her illness as a reminder of her own mortality, and as a call to arms. "It makes me even more determined to get on with things," she said.

Anita was dismissive of the idea that she might one day retire. "The most exciting part of my life is now," she said. "I believe the older you get the more radical you become." Would that it were true of everyone. She had bored of business, and she spoke to me of her relief that she would finally sever all ties with the Body Shop at the end of this year, freeing her up to devote all of her time to social justice.

We were all rudely robbed of her passion and her acumen. On Monday, September 10th, 2007, she suffered a serious headache, was taken to St. Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, and at 6.30pm she died from a major brain haemorrhage. Fortunately, her husband Gordon, and her children Justine and Sam, were on hand and were with her at the end.

When I heard the news from a family friend only two hours later, I felt an angry sense of loss. I had hoped to work with this extraordinary woman for years to come, and get to know her so much better. But I was glad to remember, from our morning of coffee and big plans, that she had already given so much to the true love of her life: She had told me the extended version of how she met, and seduced, Gordon – a story far more intensely romantic than the variations that appear in her media biographies.

Her four decades of love for that kind man were patent, and spoke even more of her sincerity than the millions of pounds she gave to charity, or the midnight oil she burned for all her causes. Though too short, and though we miss her, her’s was a life well lived.

Dame Anita Roddick, OBE, founder of the Body Shop, ardent supporter of many charitable causes, husband to Gordon, and mother of Justine and Samantha, was born Anita Lucia Perilli on October 23, 1942; she died on September 10, 2007, aged 64.

Click here to see the articles Anita wrote for the New Statesman

Clive Stafford Smith is legal director of the charity Reprieve and has spent more than 20 years representing prisoners on Death Row in the United States. More recently he has represented many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
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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