South Dorset

2015 Result:
Conservative: 23756 (48.9%)
Labour: 11762 (24.2%)
Lib Dem: 2901 (6%)
Green: 2275 (4.7%)
UKIP: 7304 (15%)
Independent: 435 (0.9%)
Others: 164 (0.3%)
MAJORITY: 11994 (24.7%)

Category: Safe Conservative seat

Geography: South West, Dorset. The Weymouth and Portland council area, part of Purbeck council area and one ward from the West Dorset council area.

Main population centres: Weymouth, Swanage, Wool, Fortuneswell, Overcombe.

Profile: The seat covers the south coast of Dorset. In the west is the town of Weymouth and the tied island of Portland, to the east the Isle of Purbeck. Weymouth is a resort town, a gateway to tourists to the Jurassic Coast and a centre for sailing, which underwent significant redevelopment for the Olympic games when it hosted the sailing events. Portland is a limestone island, linked to the mainland by Chesil beach. There are six villages on the island, the biggest being Fortuneswell, and it is best known for the quarrying of Portland Stone. The Isle of Purbeck is a peninsula, mostly an area of outstanding natural beauty with the largest settlement the seaside town of Swanage at the eastern end of the peninsula. The seat includes the British army base of Bovington Camp and the Royal Armoured Corps Gunnery School, who use part of the Purbeck hills as a firing range.

Politics: Historically South Dorset was a comfortable Conservative seat apart from a brief period of Labour representation after a 1962 by-election. It was held only very narrowly by the Conservatives in 1997, and in 2001 was one of only two Labour gains after the Liberal Democrat vote was heavily squeezed by tactical voting. It was regained by the Conservatives in 2010.

Current MP
RICHARD DRAX (Conservative) Born 1958, the scion of the Drax family who were MPs for Wareham for much of the 18th and 19th century. Educated at Harrow and RMA Sandhurst. Former journalist and Captain in the Coldstream Guards. First elected as MP for South Dorset in 2010.
Past Results
Con: 22667 (45%)
Lab: 15224 (30%)
LDem: 9557 (19%)
UKIP: 2034 (4%)
Oth: 828 (2%)
MAJ: 7443 (15%)
Con: 18419 (38%)
Lab: 20231 (42%)
LDem: 7647 (16%)
UKIP: 1571 (3%)
Oth: 716 (1%)
MAJ: 1812 (4%)
Con: 18874 (42%)
Lab: 19027 (42%)
LDem: 6531 (14%)
UKIP: 913 (2%)
MAJ: 153 (0%)
Con: 17755 (36%)
Lab: 17678 (36%)
LDem: 9936 (20%)
Oth: 1022 (2%)
MAJ: 77 (0%)

*There were boundary changes after 2005

2015 Candidates
RICHARD DRAX (Conservative) See above.
SIMON BOWKETT (Labour) Community services manager. Exeter councillor since 2012. Weymouth and Portland councillor 2004-2012.
HOWARD LEGG (Liberal Democrat) Born 1943. Former Weymouth and Portland councillor, former Dorset councillor.
MALCOLM SHAKESBY (UKIP) Born 1947. Retired merchant navy captain. Purbeck councillor 2000-2010, Dorset councillor 2001-2009 for the Conservative party. Contested South Dorset 1997 for UKIP. Awarded the MBE in 1998 for his role as rescue co-ordinator aboard the Herald of Free Enterprise.
JANE BURNET (Green) Teacher.
ANDY KIRKWOOD (Movement for Democracy) Contested Dorset South 2010.
Comments - 91 Responses on “Dorset South”
  1. actually looking at it again the turnout was only down by about 1,000 in 2001 – presumably because it hadn’t been fought as a genuine marginal in 1997 (despite the extreme closeness of the eventual result), but was fought for tooth & nail by both Labour & the Tories in 2001.

  2. All good points. Coming close to defeat in 1997 obviously saw Ian Bruce get down to work as he now knew his seat was losable. It’s notable also how well the Referendum Party did that year, getting 5.68% of the vote, as well as UKIP’s 1.75% of the vote. But going back to the numerical votes in 2001, that is an interesting point you raise Barnaby. Bruce’s increase suggests he recovered most of the votes he lost to the Referendum Party, while Knight benefited more from the tactical Lib Dem squeeze. It is idle speculation (a favourite saying of mine it seems) but I think that if Bruce had fought this again in 2005, he may well have taken it back.

  3. Probably true. The Tories lost it rather than Labour winning it in 2005. For the Tories to have lost by 1,800 in a seat where they still beat Labour in 1997 was a very poor performance indeed. Although Jim Knight did have a first-time incumbency factor as well, which would have helped him a little.

  4. To his credit, Ian Bruce stayed in the area after defeat and indeed is still a councillor in this seat.

  5. Not sure about that – Bruce wasn’t popular locally by the end of his term as MP here. That said I doubt he would have done worse than Ed Matts did.

  6. All these things considered, it has to be said the result here in 2010 for the Conservatives was either a gain they should never had to have made, and even then one they would definitely have made in normal circumstances in 2005. The Tories are 9% up on 1997, which is above the national average, but they are only 3.5% ahead of where they were in 2001. Labour on the other hand remain only 5.64% behind their 1997 percentage, which is incredible, and miles ahead still of their 1992 position. So Jim Knight’s fall of 11.4% here in 2010 when put in this context doesn’t seem as bad as one might expect at first glance. And the Lib Dems are still 1.20% behind 1997.

  7. With respect maybe you’re overanalysing things a bit. The 1997 and 2001 results were basically the same in terms of votes cast: just a tiny shift resulted in a change of MP.

  8. Was it a tiny shift? Increases of 6% and 5.5% for Labour and Conservatives respectively…

  9. I think this seat is a strong candidate for a drop in the Labour share. Jim Knight was a very successful Labour representative and he’s not standing for the first time since 1992.

  10. Conservative Hold. 7,000 maj.

  11. Is this the type of seat that has slipped away from Labour’s grasp forever? Will it be winnable for them again?

  12. Considering that Jim Knight’s wins for Labour here were the only times that Labour had ever won in South Dorset other than the by-election in 1963 I’m not sure if that’s quite the right question to ask.

  13. Yes, that’s what I’m asking. I was wondering if there was a chance Labour could win it back like some seats which they first won in 1997. From your answer, it seems like they won’t be able to ever win it back.

  14. Well, it’s clearly a seat they will only get in a ridiculously good year. I don’t see why that’s changed. Seats they are 7-8,000 behind in currently are clearly winnable in landslide years. The bigger question is how long it will be before either party gets the strength to win a landslide victory again.

  15. Easy win for Richard Drax here – this seat looks like becoming a safe one again after a dubious couple of decades. Judging by the local elections held on the same day, the Conservative vote seems to have held up very well in Weymouth which was the problem area for them in 1997-2005.

  16. Yes, a very good result for the Conservatives here:

    Cons 48.9 (+3.8)
    Lab 24.2 (-6.1)
    UKIP 15 (+11)
    LD 6 (-13)
    Green 4.7 (+3.5)

    Con majority 11,994 (24.7%)

  17. I think that this seat is now returning to the safe Tory seat it always was- Jim Knight was an excellent candidate and MP for Labour who managed to focus the anti-Conservative vote in this seat during the 90s and 2000s to his advantage. There was heavily tactical voting for him in 1997 and 2001, and probably held on for as long as he did because of demographic trends in the seat at the time. But despite not being won in 1997, I agree with the above comments that this is a prime example of a seat from the New Labour years that they will struggle to ever win again barring another massive landslide sometime in the future.

  18. I think there have been cyclical changes in the seat over time as well. In the 1990s this seat became vulnerable because of economic issues, specifically problems in Weymouth and Portland connected to the closure of the naval base and shift of a lot of MOD jobs to Bristol. This added to problems the town also suffered from ‘seaside decay’.

    But these problems bottomed out some time ago now and that has eroded Labour’s support. Ongoing immigration to the area from the London/home counties area meanwhile has shored up the Tories.

  19. Yes. IIRC there used to be an Underwater weapons Research establishment on the coast.

  20. I think this could actually trend towards the Tories now having been for a long time an ultra-marginal seat- I also suspect Jim Knight had a considerable personal vote as well as the mass tactical voting that helped him get him near in 1997, then allowed him to win in 2001 and it was probably partly incumbency as well as the Ed Matts incident that saw him hold against all the odds in 2005- I sense a comparison with Dan Norris in Wansdyke/North East Somerset- the type of Labour MP who appeals to people from various parties, who would otherwise vote for their natural allegiance, but don’t because they like the individual constituency MP, a la the Lib Dems in that respect- I have reason to believe that both Norris and Knight were excellent constituency MPs who therefore performed much better than their party nationally as a result.

  21. It was a marginal only for three elections really, 1997-2005. It has now reverted to the safe seat it was before.

    I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on Jim Knight;’s personal vote – after all, he lost clearly in 2010 on an above-average swing – I would rather tend to emphasise how very unpopular his Tory predecessor Ian Bruce had become by 1997.

    Once elected Knight did I think as well as a Labour MP could for this constituency (where he was always going to be a bit of a fish out of water) but there was always a very high likelihood the constituency would revert to type in due course.

  22. But over that time period Labour did extraordinary well, given the above average vote share increases they got in 1997 and 2001, and their vote share even held up against the national trend in 2005- the collapse in 2010 may have been tactical unwind in the Lib Dems’ favour as well as the national swing, but I think the swing Drax had five years ago was delayed because of the local factors that resulted in Knight holding on in 2005.

  23. I presume that the LAbour vote is concentrated in Weymouth There is nowhere else remotely in the vicinity that will have a substantial Labour vote. As the number of seats is reduced nationally this seat will get geographically larger and therefore safer for the Tories.

  24. Yes I can only see Drax increasing his majority again in 2020 to something like 14-15000 potentially, as I can’t see Labour being able to make much of a recovery here in vote share any time soon TBH. In fact this is the sort of seat where had it not been lost in 2001 the Tories would probably now enjoy well over 50% of the vote and a majority even bigger than they currently have.

  25. It would be interesting to go through Labour’s 2015 targets and see in how many of them the party ended up being closer to UKIP than the Tories in terms of the gap in votes. This is one example, Tamworth is another, where the party was 4,000 votes ahead of UKIP compared to 11,000 behind the Tories.

  26. ” In fact this is the sort of seat where had it not been lost in 2001 the Tories would probably now enjoy well over 50% of the vote and a majority even bigger than they currently have”.

    Gotta love the logic of: “if it hadn’t been lost, majority would have been higher”..

  27. Yes, almost any conceivable increase in the size of this seat will make it safer for the Conservatives. But it is already a large-ish seat and the aborted boundary commission proposals didn’t alter it.

    The aborted proposals were instead bad news for the Lib Dems in North Dorset/mid-Dorset N.Poole – but their position has now collapsed in both areas so much that it is somewhat academic…

  28. Well Antiochian it is a lot less silly logic than that you bade your ramping of the Lib Dems on. Before the last election I remember you were insinuating the Lib Dems had a shot at winning back Winchester and Romsey, how did that go for you? lol

  29. *based

  30. Neither Winchester nor Romsey and Southampton North are on the list of the LibDems top 150 target seats which appears on

    The top 10 LibDem targets, which they could win on a swing of less than 4%, (4.06% in the case of Bath) are:-
    2. Eastbourne
    3. Lewes
    4. Thornbury and Yate
    5. Twickenham
    6. Kingston and Surbiton
    7. St. Ives
    8. Torbay
    9. Sutton and Cheam
    10. Bath.

    The LibDems lost all these seats on 2015. Only Cambridge went Labour, the others went to the Tories. However, LibDem targets 11 and 12, Burnley and Bermondsey and Old Southwark, did go Labour.

    If they could achieve a swing of 10%, the LibDems would win 30 seats in England, up to and including Hornsea and Wood Green. The next seat, Bosworth, would require a swing f 10.25%.

    It is of course unlikely that a swing to the LibDems would be uniform across England. For instance, for local reasons I suspect that the LibDems might find it easier to win Maidstone and the Weald, Number 32 on their target list, than several seats which are nominally easier.

  31. I am very sorry, I got it wrong about Winchester and Romsey – it is very late at night!

    Wincheser is Number 48 on the list of LibDem targets in England, swing required 15.29% Romsey and Southampton North is Number 61, swing required 18.30%.

    A lot will have happened between now and 2020 if the LibDems are achieving swiings of over 15% in their favour.

  32. Frederic, do you know the reasons why Maidstone itself has very long Liberal it’s not on the Celtic fringe or yet again it’s not a Sutton or Eastleigh by election situation they have had double figure no of councillors in the town for donkeys years.

  33. kinda surprised nobody’s mentioned the Rodwell byelection for Dorset County Council result yet:

    Green – 34.9 % (+ 12)
    Con – 29.5 % (+ 5.9)
    Lab – 21.9 % (- 7.3)
    UKIP – 9.1 % (- 9.8)
    Lib Dem – 4.6 % (- 0.8)

    Green gain from Labour

  34. Yes, just spotted that.

    Green 663
    Cons 561
    Labour 417
    UKIP 174
    LD 87

    Turnout: 29.7%.

    A swing of 10% from Labour to Green.

  35. Dorset County Cllr Mike Byatt (Weymouth Town) has defected from Labour to the Conservatives here.

    He’s also the former Labour Group Leader on Weymouth Council.

  36. That may be connected more to internal Labour machinations than anything else, including that he was recently not selected to contest a CC seat in Weymouth…

  37. ‘That may be connected more to internal Labour machinations than anything else, including that he was recently not selected to contest a CC seat in Weymouth…’

    Indeed – sounds like classic Tory behaviour…lol

  38. Tophill East Ward by-election, 08.02.18:

    Conservative 364
    Labour 356
    Green 54

    Cons Gain from Ind.

  39. Tophill West Ward by-election, 08.02.18:

    Cons 511
    Lab 356
    Green 82

    Cons Hold.

  40. Richard Drax apologized in the commons earlier for voting for May’s deal (it was reported on Friday that cabinet minster were seen persuading him just before he voted) and has said he will not vote for it again and also May should resign if she cannot delver no deal on the 12th.

  41. Labour Cllr Kate Wheeler has defected to Inds, citing complaints about the Labour leadership nationally.

    Labour now cease to have a Group on the County Council.

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