Accompanied with a smile, Dave Rowntree walked into the media office. Even if I had not Googled his name a few days before interviewing him, the assertiveness of his hand-shake and the immediate comfort he found settling into our green desk-chair, instinctively told me he was a confident man, ready to answer any impromptu questions about his political campaign. Perhaps his life of fame being a Britpop hero as the drummer of Blur swept away any unwanted stage-fright, no doubt it would have helped him with his later achievements as a criminal lawyer, DJ, computer animator and pilot. Some could say, surely he is the Jack-of-all-trades, as he is standing in this year’s county council elections in the ward encompassing UEA.
The University ward Labour team have already expressed their excitement on having Rowntree be their candidate for May. Charlie Pritchard, a second-year undergraduate studying American and English Literature, works closely with him and described him as “fantastic” and “a very committed activist and who engages with members of his broad to really address the problems.”
With introductions over, it was time to talk politics. Before I am able to ask any questions regarding his campaign, Rowntree admits, “I don’t want to set myself up as some sort of special case because I’m in a band, because it’s utterly irrelevant to what we we’re hoping to achieve in the council, which is not related to Blur at all.” I admit that what I found especially interesting about him was his past successes in music, accidentally calling it “that 90s band”, which shook him. “Blimey is that what we are? A 90s band?” he says, in his exclusively British accent, that of a man who grew up in Colchester but latched onto the colloquial articulation of a central Londoner.
I ask him what issues he will be campaigning on in the spring. “Making Norwich a better place to live and work” he affirms, saying, “I know the university has particular issues with that regard, especially with better places to live.”
Rowntree dismisses the calls from some in Norwich City Council to introduce more regulations on Houses of Multiple Occupancy, calling it “ a disgraceful idea”, where “most of the issues are money-related.”
The debate on Article 4, which if introduced would place more regulations on the number of student houses, has caused some students to fear that they could be pushed out of the Golden Triangle. The council have delayed their decision following a campaign by UEA’s student union and are expected to renew debate in the following months. Rowntree said, “I don’t know it’s going anywhere, it doesn’t seem to be a proposal that’s got much public support, and you’d be shooting yourself in the foot by trying to solve perceived problems in that way.”
Following on from this, I ask Rowntree about arguments from some City Councillors that students are unpleasant neighbours.“I was a student once, it may be that students are occasionally rowdy, that landlords are occasional dreadful, but that does not represent either the student body or the landlord,” he says. He describes local political problems as complexe, stating that you cannot simply use a “magic wand” and expect situations to heal themselves.
We discussed a You Gov poll from January which indicated 18-24 year olds prefer Prime Minister Theresa May to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and how the party can appeal to students. Hastily, Rowntree replies that Corbyn has “got some work to do, absolutely.” As an activist, it was expected Rowntree would praise Labour’s grassroot work in Norwich: “In the city the Labour party has a good reputation for knocking on your door even when there isn’t an election…which is not something you can say for many other parties.”
In 2015, Rowntree wrote an article for the Independent about his experiences campaigning in Norwich for the General Election. Most interestingly, his description of the weather on the day of his speech not only captured England’s stereotypically dreadful climate but suited the mood of the party following the result.
Five years earlier, Rowntree had told the Guardian that part of why he became involved in Labour politics was “pretty much a mid-life crisis.” He admits that he finds true meaning in taking a role as an activist when I ask about this. “It’s the best part of being a member of the Labour party, but people are petrified of it because they think what you have to do is argue on the door-step…which has only really happened twice”, he says with a chuckle.
“You are there to offer help…to uncover issues that people would not come forward with but are ruining their lives” and with this, he refers to a first-hand account of a lady he encountered in Westminster who just needed a plumber.
Next, I was compelled to ask his view on the cumbersome question: Brexit. A diversified university city, Norwich voted Remain despite being in a sea of Leave-inclined neighbouring constituencies. On leaving the EU, Rowntree reflects the sentiment of the university, saying, “it was not the right thing for the country, it will effect everything, a mandate for radical change, but the government hasn’t been in a hurry to tell us how…we shall have to see.”
Regarding the May elections, Rowntree shows his gratitude and says“it is a privilege to be able to put my name forward, I am very happy to do this.” Lastly, he urges students to vote to “see tuition fees roll back naturally in power of ordinary politics”, especially as he believes students are prone to receiving a “raw deal where their budgets are cut.”
Ending our interview, Rowntree reassures “I am not putting myself out as somebody special”, and laughs to stress his campaign as completely unrelated to his musical past. Though, he says his preceding role as a solicitor “has definitely helped with the ability to argue with people, it teaches you to be organised and that is definitely the most important thing when it comes to campaigning and being active on issues.”
After I thank him for taking time to talk to Concrete, I add in a congratulations to finalise our interview session; Rowntree laughs at this and says, “well I haven’t won.”