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Banging a different drum

Dave Rowntree
Labour's Parliamentary candidate for Cities of London and Westminster

By Boc Ly
BBC London

In an alternative universe, Dave Rowntree could be living in a big country house trying to squeeze every last crumb of decadence from his rock n' roll life.

Meeting him though you would not think that he is in one of the most successful British rock bands of the last 25 years.

You might think that he was a pilot or a trainee solicitor; a space pioneer or a computer animator. All of which would be correct, but even that's not the full story.

A local party activist of several years, Dave Rowntree is Labour's candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster seat at the next general election.

Sitting in his campaign office in Soho, Dave, 45, talks to BBC London about politics, how his legal work has opened his eyes to a darker side of the capital and the future of Blur.

The expenses scandal has made politicians less popular than ever, why would you want to join their ranks?

The truth is I am not a politician. No one has elected me to anything. I am an activist, one of millions of activists up and down the country and I am campaigning in my neighbourhood for things to be better.

I am one of the grunts really. I am one of the people who deliver leaflets and write pamphlets and knock on doors.

What issues are you going to be campaigning on?

The biggest issue in Westminster is housing. It is a particular concern of mine because it sits at the top of a pyramid of lots of other issues.

If there is bad housing then you will also get drug problems, mental health problems, unemployment, crime and anti-social behaviour.

Dave Rowntree
It is not glamorous, nobody cheers or claps but it is necessary if you want improve the lot of people in your neighbourhood
Dave Rowntree

Westminster is considered a safe Tory seat… You face an uphill battle to be elected, don't you? What would be a good outcome?

It is an uphill battle. If you knock on enough doors then you will find a lot of local issues that people have not been able to solve and you do your best to bring them some kind of resolution.

It is not glamorous, nobody cheers or claps after you've done it but it is necessary if you want improve the lot of people in your neighbourhood.

Not many people get a rock star knocking on their doors…

They're still not getting a rock star! I'm a drummer in Blur.

You're delivering leaflets, you turn up, you stick a leaflet through the door and you go on to the next place. Though I am in a famous band I have not got a particularly famous face so there are no distractions on the doorstep.

When you decided to stand for Parliament were you worried that people might not take you seriously?

People don't take you seriously off the bat no matter what you do. You have to earn the right to be taken seriously.

It is easier for me to get a meeting with somebody because I am in a band but I have to work doubly hard to show that I am not riding on the back of the Blur thing and trying to have an easy ride.

What other issues have you been speaking out on?

The other thing that I have been banging on about is political and parliamentary reform. I am a proponent of all kinds of reforms, starting with PR and the way Parliament runs. Gordon in his speech to conference talked about an all-elected upper chamber. That is long overdue.

There are more radical reforms as well. I am for a drastic cut in the number of MPs, maybe by a third. I am for demolishing the House of Commons and rebuilding it in a fit for purpose way, a horse shoe shape with a seat for everybody and electronic voting.

As well as the political activism, you're also training to be a solicitor…

It started seriously when I went to work for a friend of mine who has a solicitor's firm in the East End. What I discovered really shocked me.

There is still a Dickensian underclass in Britain who are drug addicts or have mental health problems and they are responsible for the bulk of petty crime in the area.

They have absolutely no one fighting their corner apart from defence solicitors. That made me very angry. That was what made me get more involved with the Labour Party and to see what I could do to change that situation.

I am doing the Legal Practice Course now which is the solicitors' vocational course and I finish that in June next year.

Blur in the Radio 1 studios at the height of Britpop in 1995

Are you trying to give something back?

I am in a relatively privileged position in that I don't have to do anything to make a living. Very few people find themselves in this position and I am certainly not going to abuse it by sitting around for the next 20 years.

You are not short of interests. What drives you on?

Once upon a time I used to drink far too much. And then I stopped and I suddenly discovered that I have all these hours in the day.

That was really when I started to explore life a little further and see what I could do and what I couldn't do. I tried to push myself in various ways. That's when I started flying planes and I have been doing that ever since.

The Blur reunion shows were a huge success. What's next for the band?

It did make everyone think: 'We have got something pretty good here.'

As to whether we are going to keep doing it… That's an open question that we haven't really talked about yet.

We've all got stuff to do up until the summer of next year. So there was no possibility of us just starting the band up again, or even any point of saying what's next.

Is it strange now that you are selling yourself in interviews rather than the band or a specific album?

We learnt a long time ago that the worst and most boring kind of interviews are the ones where you were just talking about the album. It just drives you up the wall.

Colin Pillinger
Colin Pillinger attempted to put a lander on the surface of Mars

So we have always struggled long and hard for something else to talk about. That's the reason why Alex and I got involved in the Beagle 2 project, simply to have something else to talk about in interviews. That's absolutely true!

We both had an interest in space and we were in Houston and all the scientists we met were English and we wondered why they had to come to America to be a space scientist?

So when we got home we made a few phone calls and we met up with Colin Pillinger.

Damon Albarn was very vocal against the Iraq war, and now you're standing for Parliament, yet Blur never seemed a particularly political band. Is that fair?

When you say that we were not a political band, it depends how you define politics. We're not political in the sense that Billy Bragg is political but all of our songs are about people and politics is about people. So I would say that we are a political band.

Would you ask Blur to campaign for you?

No, I'd never ask them. If people are interested and offer then I would gratefully take them up but it is not for everybody.

If you are interested in politics, or you are interested in doing good for your community then this is the best thing you can possibly do.

If not, then you'll have a boring Saturday morning.

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