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 - 89 Responses on “Dorset South”
  1. Striking collapse in the Lib Dem vote in the CC wards making up this constituency. Labour up considerably in Weymouth but not perhaps by as much as they need to be to have a realistic chance at the next GE.

  2. I think that this is once again safe enough for the Conservatives for the timebeing.

    Any swing against them here in 2015 will probably only be between about 3-5% I would imagine- Certainly no bigger than that. The reason why I say this is because after the gain in 2001 that was made by Labour (Due to a strong candidate and effective squeezing of the Lib Dem vote) as well as the special circumstances of 2005 that allowed them to incredibly hold this, I think now Jim Knight has gone to the Lords any other Labour candidate is unlikely to ever have the same effect.

  3. Well, now they have a strong local base, a good local candidate may well emerge – so don’t write this one off, because we clearly did well there

  4. Well sorry Mike but I see the chances of a Labour gain here in either 2015 or 2020 to be very slim indeed- Though they may have this marginal again by 2020.

    But all in all, it just doesn’t seem to me personally to be the type of seat your party can ever realistically win back barring some excellent groundwork locally- I actually believe that had Matts not messed up in 2005, that the Tories would have easily gained this back at that election in another world.

  5. It’s a long shot for sure. Labour would have to do far better in Purbeck than for 8 years to have any chance.

  6. Looks like Labour had a good night here – not sure whether they polled the most votes.

    It seems like the Tories resisted the swing quite well in Dorset as a whole though – apart from here.

  7. On paper, its not an obvious Labour seat but there is clearly a shift to us here – and I can only assume those results do indicate a strong local campaign?

    There are a number of seats where parties do a lot better or worse than logic may suggest (we live in one of them!)

  8. The Conservatives topped the poll here in the relevant divisions. As Barnaby notes, Labour are very weak outside Weymouth and were so again this year.

    Within Weymouth, while Labour did well in terms of seats gained, their vote share wasn’t spectacular (though the picture is a bit blurred by considerable showings for independents and UKIP).

    A particular feature of this seat is the ticket splitting which goes on at local and national level (compare the local and GE results of 2005 on the same day). There has always been some fluidity between Labour and Lib Dem votes and to some extent between Lib Dem and Conservative ones as well. This reflects a degree of volatility in the Weymouth electorate.

  9. Dorset South is possible but it is not a target seat, it is in the South West and it is a weird seat. Labour gained this seat from the Tories in 2001 and held it until 2010, even though it did not gain it in 1997. Odd.

  10. Not that odd because in 1997 a lot of anti-Tory voters would have still regarded the LDs as the natural challengers to the Conservatives since they (and their predecessors) had been in second place for a long time. Once the 1997 result was known it was obvious from then onwards that voting Labour was the way to defeat the Tories.

  11. S Dorset may not be a prime target seat, but it’s the only seat for many miles where Labour has any chance at all. Therefore, it’s likely that there will be a strong Labour campaign, including I suspect in the Purbeck part of the constituency, whereas the Tories will have troops in some nearby seats not least Mid Dorset & N Poole, and to some extent W Dorset where the Tories still have a somewhat narrow lead over the LDs. That being said, it also would have been the case last time, but if there is a national swing, the additional work may help to make sure it’s replicated here.

  12. Last time Labour ran paper candidates in the rural Dorset seats and concentrated all their efforts in Dorset S. But the problem they have is that there are hardly any activists or resources in the rest of the county to concentrate on this one seat.

  13. Yes, that is a problem for Labour here.

    Really it has to be said that considering they are practically weak elsewhere in the county, that they should really have no problems concentrating their efforts on here in terms of activists and councillors.

    But the Conservative vote in this part of the county remains resilient and the only thing they can really hope for (Labour) now come 2015 is a large chunk of the Lib Dems’ vote going straight to their candidate.

  14. I should think that Labour Party workers are likely to come here from Somerset & Wiltshire as well as Dorset, and even eastern Devon if Labour looks secure in Exeter (as is starting to look the case). Party workers however are not necessarily the same as votes, not by a long chalk, but there’s likely to be more Labour Party activity in Purbeck than for some time.

  15. I’m sceptical of Labour’s ability to up its vote much in Purbeck to be honest. They have tried harder in the last few years but the area isn’t very receptive to them.

    It’s the Weymouth part of the seat that’s key here, which has become ‘swing territory’ over the last twenty years or so.

  16. My prediction for 2015:

    Con – 43
    Lab – 33
    LD – 12
    UKIP – 8
    OTH – 4

  17. That is not your prediction for 2015, Matt, and you know it. It is your wish for 2015.
    A more accurate prediction is:
    CON – 38%
    LAB – 38%
    LD -12%
    UKIP – 10%

  18. Labour will be very cheered indeed to have won the Melcombe Regis ward by-election in Weymouth, coming from a (not particularly distant) 4th place to do so. The party is clearly in good form in the Weymouth & Portland mini-conurbation & will now be looking to become at least the largest party on the council there though overall control still looks very hard for the time being.

  19. Bob….that is how Weymouth & Portland might vote in 2015 but Labour gets next to nothing in the rural communities or places like Swan’.

  20. Ŵhat were the circumstances that allowed Jim Knight to win in 2001? And also why is Labour stronger here than the other parts of Dorset? Is there a distant history of mining etc?

  21. Weymouth & Porland. I think Labour won twice between WW2 and 2001. 1945 and a by election in the 1959 -1964 parliament that was lost in 1964.

  22. Dorset South Labour by election victor (Guy Barnet) when on to become MP for Greenwich. His passing caused the historic 1980’s Greenwich by election won by Rosie Barnes of the SDP.

  23. Was this Ed Matts’ (Tory PPC2005) crime?

    So he doctored a photo Ann Widdicombe seemed to agreed with beforehand – is this all that cost him his seat in 2005?

  24. Labour’s byelection win in the 1960s was a freak result, due to a split in the Conservative vote following the intervention of an anti-European candidate.

    The Conservatives’ defeat in 2001 (and near defeat in 1997) can be ascribed to a number of factors – the closure of the naval base; the economic and social deterioration in Weymouth (partly linked to the former) and resultant demographic changes; and the disillusion of local Conservative voters.

    2010 saw the latter factor going into reverse to some extent and arguably Weymouth may also have recovered somewhat from its nadir but it remains quite volatile territory electorally, shifting with the national tide. The areas of the constituency outside Weymouth are as mentioned earlier quite different in character.

  25. Labour did win in 2001 and 2005, though – without Purbeck’s support, so I wouldn’t rule anything out. Clearly we need a good locally rooted candidate, but that shouldn’t be a problem

  26. I think that any other candidate would have gained this for the Conservatives in 2005.

    I think given that Drax had no problems getting a sizeable majority here in 2010, in ordinary circumstances the Tories would have gained this by at least 2,000 in 2005 perhaps.

  27. “Weymouth & Porland. I think Labour won twice between WW2 and 2001. 1945 and a by election in the 1959 -1964 parliament that was lost in 1964.”

    Labour didn’t win Dorset South in 1945. They weren’t too far from doing so (just over 2,000) but were actually closer to winning Dorset East which was based around Poole but also included most of what is now the East Dorset district

  28. what’s ed matts doing now?

  29. I was just going to say what Pete said. Labour had never won S Dorset until the rather freakish win Runnymede correctly described. As it happens the Tory who regained the seat, Evelyn King, had previously been a Labour MP, representing Penryn & Falmouth from 1945 to 1950. The same year that Guy Barnett won the seat, 1962, another by-election, in W Derbyshire, was won for the Tories by Aidan Crawley, who had been Labour MP for Buckingham from 1945 to 1951 (and who had been a first-class cricketer).
    Merseymike is correct that Labour won here in 2001 & 2005 despite being well behind in the Purbeck portion of the seat. However, it’s reasonable to suppose that Jim Knight did pick some useful support there which has not normally been forthcoming – I suspect mainly in Swanage & Wool though I may be wrong. If Labour were able to outpoll the Tories strongly enough in the Weymouth & Portland section of the seat, which I think forms a slight majority of the population, it could still be interesting. But it’s a long shot.

  30. The Weymouth part of the seat is more like 2/3 of the electorate in fact Barnaby – hence my comment upthread about this being the key battle ground.

  31. Aidan Crawley was of course the father of Harriet Crawley who almost won Brent east for the Tories in 1987. I seem to remember hearing that she may now be with another party too but can’t be sure about that. I do remember that both her brothers were killed in an air crash not long after the 1987 election

  32. she did join a party to which you would have been implacably opposed, Pete – the Pro-Euro Conservative Party.

  33. Haven’t heard much of the Pro Euro Conservative Party, or for that matter, the Big Society lately.
    But if she had got rid of Ken Livingstone in 1987 I guess she might have done us a big favour as he probably would have had no platform to return as London Mayor and do all the subsequent damage – which I won’t list again because my post is not partisan.

  34. Do you think Labour would have beaten Boris in 2012 with any other candidate ?

    Ken really wasn’t a good candidate then.

  35. It would have been very close.

  36. Don’t know. It didn’t happen – thank goodness.
    The natiopnal party didn’t go into a tail spin and we live to fight another day.
    I hope they put him up again.

  37. You mean Boris or Ken? There’s no chance of Ken Livingstone standing for Labour again for Mayor of London.

  38. Labour were 738 votes ahead of the Tories in Weymouth and Portland but when the divisions from West Dorset and Purbeck are added the latter would certainly have been ahead, so Dorset South would have remained in the Conservative column this year.

  39. I think that 738 was cancelled out just by the Tory lead over Labour in the Swanage division.

  40. Our victories here were fun whilst they lasted, but unlike Bob (who I assure you is not reflective of party members’ thinking) I don’t see this becoming a proper marginal again for sometime.

    Speaking of Bob, is he still around?

  41. As per Andrea – Labour shortlist here:

    Simon Bowkett (former Weymouth Cllr, current Exeter Cllr)
    Mike Byatt (Dorset County Councillor)
    Dave Roberts (former Newbury Cllr, now living in Salisbury)
    Rachel Rogers (Weymouth Cllr)

  42. ‘Our victories here were fun whilst they lasted’

    I was surprised Labour leap-frogged the Lib Dems into a virtual tie with the Tories close in 1997 and whilst Jim Knight was undoubtedly one of the better New Labour MP’s, he might well have lost in 2005 had the Tories picked a better candidate and run a better campaign

    This is far from natural marginal territory

  43. @ Tim Jones.

    I think there are some similarities to Hastings & Rye here, in that The Lib Dem vote that was strong before 1997 has swung behind labour and altered the dynamics of the constituency.

    It’s a Tory seat in an even year (as 2015 might ell prove to be) but with the centre/left vote concentrated behind Labour, I’d expect Drax’s majority to be reduced to around 5%.

  44. It’s probably worth mentioning that Labour won in 2001 and 2005 thanks in no small part to Billy Bragg’s tactical voting campaign (although there are probably underlying issues which would have encouraged people to vote Labour), but I imagine the momentum of this campaign will have long since worn off after 2010.

  45. As Peter Snow might have said, this is just a bit of fun.

    UKIP “targets” for the 2014 Euro election for swings of up to 5%:

    Ironically, one of the party’s best hopes in Boston is just outside the range at 5.04% so I might expand the target list a bit before the election.

  46. I doubt Billy Bragg’s ‘campaign’ had more than a marginal impact and it was notably unsuccessful in the Dorset West seat where he actually lives. There were far more serious factors behind the Tories’ failure in South Dorset.

  47. For once I agree with Runnymede. Bragg had little to do with Labour’s wins in S Dorset. In 2001, it was a mixture of a very effective vote-squeezing campaign by BOTH Labour (independently of Bragg) and, to a very slightly lesser degree, the Conservatives, a credible & good Labour candidate and very clever local campaigning to attract votes in normally non-Labour-friendly areas. The retention in 2005 was very heavily down to a quite appalling, accident-prone Conservative campaign & candidate – it’s arguable that Frank Spencer would have done better than the candidate they did pick.

  48. A really crucial issue was the closure of the naval base at Portland – note Ian Bruce came within a hair’s breadth of losing in 1997 also.

  49. “The retention in 2005 was very heavily down to a quite appalling, accident-prone Conservative campaign & candidate – it’s arguable that Frank Spencer would have done better than the candidate they did pick.”

    Ed Matts- Who had previously stood in Oxford West and Abingdon in 2001. Actually, although the Tory vote fell by 3.7% in 2005, the Conservatives were still above where they were in 1997, by 1.8%. So although Ian Bruce did indeed lose here in 2001, he had upped his own vote share by 5.5%, probably because of the whole tactical campaign that Barnaby described above.

  50. The 2001 result was very unusual in that, despite a drop in turnout which was broadly in line with the national average as I recall, both Bruce & Knight actually increased their numerical vote, not just their share of the vote. Very few candidates of either of their parties managed that in 2001.

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