Blur drummer Dave Rowntree reveals why he became a Labour candidate

'Mid-life crisis' musician admits to alcohol and drug abuse in campaign leaflet for Cities of London and Westminster seat

Usually, you'll find him hidden behind half a dozen drums. Today Blur drummer Dave Rowntree is surrounded by seven or eight Labour campaigners, a few thousand political pamphlets, and several stacks of envelopes. There are career swerves, and there are career U-turns, but Rowntree's decision to put his music on the backburner and run for parliament constituted – by his own admission – a full-blown male menopause.

"It was pretty much a mid-life crisis," the 45-year-old said, swivelling on a chair at his campaign headquarters in the plush offices of a Soho media firm. "There was a fairly well-documented split in the band, I was turning 40, and I was going from having no time on my hands to having rather a lot. And I started waking up with that angsty feeling at four in the morning, going, 'Oh my God, I've wasted my life.' I had to do something about that. And so I started turning up at the local Labour party."

Seven years on from his post-Blur meltdown, the musician – with a law degree all but under his belt, and a spell as local chairman on the CV – is now a part-time politician: Labour's parliamentary candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster, where Tory Mark Field had a majority of 8,095 at the last election.

"We almost certainly won't win," Rowntree says barely seconds into the interview, and such candour is his trademark. Take his campaign literature: five sentences into one leaflet, and he has already committed three acts of what some MPs would call political hara-kiri. He's owned up to prior bouts of not just alcohol abuse, but homelessness and drug addiction, too. Elsewhere in the pamphlet, Rowntree neither hides nor plays up his celebrity past. He simply states: "My name is David Rowntree, and as well as being the drummer in the band Blur, I am your local Labour candidate."

Such honesty is a risk, I suggest to him, in an age where even a florid Twitter feed can damn a politician to disgrace. But Rowntree shakes his head. "I've grown up in public and the last thing I want is for people to rub my nose in that. If anyone's going to do the nose-rubbing, it's going to be me. The good things in my life, and the bad things in my life – I just thought I'd be completely open about it all."

In any case, he argues, most of his would-be constituents don't care about his background, musical or otherwise. "I've had a couple of emails saying, 'Isn't it great that Dave from Blur is standing?', as well as a couple saying, 'How dare you? This is an insult. I would never vote for a musician.' But in general, it's old news for voters now. And older people don't know what Blur is at all."

Rowntree is amused by any politician who tries to turn music into political capital. He chuckles in particular at David Cameron's professed passion for the Smiths. "He's a Smiths tourist," says the drummer, cheeks creased with a knowing grin. "Real Smiths fans dress a certain kind of way, and they have a certain kind of haircut, and they wear certain kinds of T-shirts. But what they probably don't do is have their picture taken outside the Salford Lads Club.

"Politicians," Rowntree admits, "do have to try and present themselves as ordinary people. But you need to do that in a way which makes you look least like an arse."

Tony Blair was another of those who – according to Rowntree – often looked more like an arse than he might have intended. Rowntree is especially critical of Blair's unsuccessful efforts to schmooze Britpop bands, as part of his much-derided Cool Britannia initiative.

"What got my goat about Tony Blair inviting all the bands to No 10 was that that was the standard way politicians had interacted with musicians for generations. Cool Britannia was nothing to do with us. We never said Britannia was cool. It was like when Harold Wilson called the Beatles round. What happens at those things is not that the politicians say: 'Well, what do you think we should be doing?' Politicians say: 'We're going to be doing this. Will you support us?' And nobody likes to feel taken for granted like that."

In any case, Rowntree says he isn't interested in that kind of high-end political exposure: "I've resisted doing anything like that – just blandly giving my name to the Labour party and hoping some of their gloss would rub off on me. I've got stuck in at the grassroots end."

Is he not a big donor, then, I ask tentatively? Rowntree's jaw swings floorwards. "No, no, no! I'm a big donor to my campaign, but not to the Labour party. I have donated money – 20 quid here, 30 quid there. But I'm not a Labour party patsy. People write that Dave quit the band to concentrate on his political career, but I don't have a political career. I'm an activist. I go round knocking on doors trying to find problems to solve."And with that, he bustles back to the campaign room next door, sits down, and starts stuffing envelopes.


Patrick Kingsley

The GuardianTramp

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