This constituency does indeed include a significant part of the New Forest itself, but more than half the electorate is in fact to be found in the terrain adjoining Southampton Water in the communities of Totton, Marchwood, Dibden, Hythe and Fawley. This section was in essence the ‘Waterside’ associated by name with Romsey in a division created in 1983, before being transferred here in 1997, when for the first time the New Forest was awarded two seats. The five Totton wards had a population of 30,000 in 2011, Marchwood 6,000, Dibden and Hythe 18,000, the Fawley area 12,000; none of this could be described as archetypal verdant scenery - with the ancient trees, straying wild ponies and clearings of the forest itself being a far cry from the views of, for example, the huge oil refinery at Fawley. This 2,500 acre facility provides around 20% of the refinery capacity of the entire UK, and in 2019 further expansion was announced by Exxon Mobil to build a hydrogen-generating plant, an automotive diesel oil production facility and diesel storage tank. The Liberal Democrats are competitive at local level in these ‘waterside’ wards, winning around 40% of them in May 2019, usually in straight fights with the Conservatives who took the rest. A larger geographical area, but smaller proportion of the electorate, is contributed by the wards truly in the forest. These include some well known communities. Lyndhurst will be very familiar to anyone who has ever been trapped in a one way system unable to cope with the traffic funnelling into the tourist trap zone. Brockenhurst has some fine hotels such as the very first member of the ‘Pig’ group. These small towns each form the basis of a district council ward – Lyndhurst was LD in 2019, Brockenhurst Conservative, and the third forest ward (Bramshaw, Copythorne North and Minstead - which contains the ‘Rufus Stone’ where Wiilliam II was said to have been killed while hunting) was actually unopposed for the Tories. But most of what people think of as the New Forest is in the West constituency and this parliamentary seat’s outcome is really decided alongside Southampton Water. There was a period when New Forest East looked close to being marginal. In its first three contests (1997-2005), the largest majority for the only MP it has ever had, the Conservative Dr Julian Lewis, was 6,551, and his share of the vote never exceeded 50%. The Liberal Democrats reduced the gap to just 3,829 in 2001, and their share undertook a neat and very respectable progression: 32%, 33%, 34%. However since 2005 Lewis’s own progression has been even more impressive and strong: 53% in 2010, 56% in 2015, 62.6% in 2017 and finally 64.5% in December 2019. What makes the seat even more secure now is that three different parties finished second in the 2010s: first the Liberal Democrats, then UKIP in 2015, then Labour in 2017 and (just ahead of the Lib Dems) in 2019. Why have Lewis and the Tories so strengthened their grip on New Forest East? One clue lies in that UKIP second place in 2015, despite Lewis’s own Euroscepticism. This seat is estimated to have recorded 60% for Leave in the 2016 referendum, and Lewis could hoover up most of those UKIP votes when they stood down in 2017 and 2019, when the Brexit issue came to dominate the election. Another element is the demographic nature of this seat. Although not true south coast retirement territory (see New Forest West next door, the fourth ’oldest’ seat of all) the age profile is more venerable than average, with 21% of residents, and a higher proportion of voters, aged 65 or over at the time of the most recent census. It is 97% white, and 75% owner occupied, both well above average. The contrast with the neighbouring Labour seat of Southampton Test is sharp, and that may be another point: many residents deliberately choose to reside on this side of the Water. A final point, and again a contrast with the city that dominates this economic sub-region, is that employment here is more strongly private than public sector. With their local government base, and the fading of Brexit as a determining factor, the Liberal Democrats may well regain second place, having suffered a particularly heavy penalty for taking part in the 2010-15 coalition; but they have a lot of catching up to do to restore their strength of challenge to its level when New Forest East was first created. Helped by the even division of votes between the pursuing parties, this now ranks as the 15th safest Conservative seat by percentage majority. Julian Lewis is known as an expert on Defence issues. He has certainly been highly successful at the defence of what once looked like a possibly vulnerable seat.
Owner-occupied 75.1% 65/650 Private rented 11.4% 498/650 Social rented 11.7% 507/650 White 97.4% 189/650 Black 0.5% 373/650 Asian 0.9% 535/650 Managerial & professional 33.5% Routine & Semi-routine 24.5% Degree level 25.8% 324/650 No qualifications 20.2% 448/650 Students 5.2% 618/650 Age 65+ 21.0% 89/650
General Election 2019: New Forest East
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Julian Lewis 32,769 64.5 +1.9 Labour Julie Hope 7,518 14.8 -5.0 Liberal Democrats Bob Johnston 7,390 14.6 -0.6 Green Nicola Jolly 2,434 4.8 +2.4 Animal Welfare Andrew Knight 675 1.3 +1.3