Will Blur drummer Dave Rowntree win for Labour in Mid Sussex?

Dave Rowntree, the drummer for Blur, has been selected as a Labour candidate at the next general election for the Conservative-held Mid Sussex seat.

The constituency of Mid Sussex is found in the heart of West Sussex covering a narrow but quite small rural belt of land to the north of Brighton. Although it contains a number of villages such as Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint, the largest proportion of the electorate is found in the two towns of Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath.

Speaking after his selection in Mid Sussex, Rowntree told Politics.co.uk: “It’s a breathtaking part of the world, so I plan to get out into the fresh air and speak to as many residents as possible”.

Breathtaking though it may be, this area of the country has also long-been one of the Conservatives’ safest seats — having been won by the party by close to 7,000 votes even in the Labour landslide year of 1997. It was previously represented at Westminster by Nicholas Soames, the grandson of Winston Churchill and long-standing friend of King Charles III.

In the 2019 general election, Mims Davies was elected as the MP for Mid Sussex with a majority of 15,607 over the Liberal Democrats. The Labour Party, which has never before won the seat, finished narrowly behind the Lib Dems in third place.

Mid Sussex has been shrunk by the recent Boundary Commission Review losing around a third of its voters to the new seat of East Grinstead and Uckfield whilst gaining around a sixth of the electorate from the neighbouring seat of Arundel and South Downs. Had the 2019 general election been held on these new boundaries it is thought likely that the Conservative Party majority in Mid Sussex would have been reduced by around a third.

In May 2023, current MP Davies — who serves as the parliamentary under-secretary of state for disabled people — confirmed that she has been adopted as the Conservative candidate in the new East Grinstead and Uckfield seat for the next election.

According to Electoral Calculus, the Conservative Party is set to retain control of Mid Sussex at the next election — winning a predicted 31.4 per cent of the vote. The Liberal Democrats will finish second, by Electoral Calculus’ telling, on 27.6 per cent of the vote. 

On current polling, Rowntree would finish third on 27.4 per cent of the vote. 

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Who are Rowntree’s opponents in Mid Sussex?

Using data from Polimapper Candidate Connect, Politics.co.uk notes that Rowntree will be standing against Conservative candidate Kirsty Adams, among others, in Mid Sussex.

Adams is the director of her family firm, Adams Attics, which designs loft conversions. Trained in commercial management with Marks and Spencer, she previously led Creative Partnerships’ art and outdoor learning projects in schools. She is also the founder and chair of the Bedfordshire anti-modern slavery group. 

Aged 53 at the time of selection, she contested the constituency of Hove in the 2017 general election. Curiously, Adams was recorded in 2010 as telling a church in Bedford how she healed a deaf man by placing her hands over his ears, according to the Daily Mirror.

The Liberal Democrats have chosen Alison Bennett to be their candidate in Mid Sussex at the next election. Bennett previously worked for British Airways and for EON UK. Elected as a councillor for Hurstpierpoint on Mid Sussex District Council in 2019, she currently serves as the leader of the Lib Dem Group. 

Bennett stood as the Lib Dem candidate for Arundel and South Downs in the 2015 general election.

Mid Sussex is a prime Liberal Democrat target, with party leader Sir Ed Davey having publicly made his intentions known regarding the constituency. Speaking to the BBC during Lib Dem party conference in September 2023, Sir Ed said he was feeling “very positive” about the party’s chances in the south east.

He added: “What we tend to find is when we have this great success at local government, as we have in places like Eastbourne, Lewes, Tunbridge Wells, Mid Sussex and Chichester, you then go on to win the seat at the next election”.

With the Liberal Democrats widely predicted to win seats like Eastbourne and Lewes at the next election, Davey could have extra resource to plough into Mid Sussex. However, with Rowntree’s strong name recognition and Labour’s national poll ratings, Mid Sussex looks set to become a three-way marginal. With a core Conservative vote in the area, it could be one of the election’s most difficult seats to predict.  

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Interestingly, Rowntree is not the only musically-minded Labour parliamentary candidate. Tom Gray, who is standing for the party in Brighton Pavillion, is the founding member of the indie rock band, Gomez.

Gomez has enjoyed five UK top 40 albums, and Gray himself has won the Mercury price for his songwriting and composing chops.  

Meanwhile, James Frith — who is running as the Labour Party candidate for Bury North having previously represented the constituency from 2017-2019 — was once the lead singer in the Rock band Finka and the Fusiliers, and has previously performed at Glastonbury.

If Rowntree defies the odds and bests his Lib Dem and Conservative opponents in Mid Sussex, he might fancy his chances of gaining entry into “MP4” — the rock band made up of three current and one former MPs.

The band was founded as MP3 in 2004 by the SNP’s Pete Wishart (keyboards), then-Labour MP Ian Cawsey (bass guitar and vocals), and Conservative MP Sir Greg Knight (drums). The band was later joined by Labour MP Kevin Brennan (guitar). Wishart was previously a keyboard player with Runrig and Big Country.

Josh Self is Editor of Politics.co.uk, follow him on Twitter here.

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