The New Forest is not at all new. It was in essence a creation of William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion of England, probably sometime in 1070s. Nor should ‘forest’ be strictly interpreted as a large area of trees. In the Middle Ages, the word implied much more a preserve set aside for royal use, especially their favourite pastime of hunting, with restrictive and often much resented laws. Nearly a thousand years later, most of the New Forest is still owned by the Crown, though the rights of the so called Commoners who occupy the land are now much stronger and are specifically protected by the Court of Verderers. The forest is also now a well known tourist destination, and indeed can seem overrun with visitors on a sunny summer day. The New Forest West constituency includes the heart of the forest itself around Burley and the two largest towns closely associated with it, Ringwood and the port (Isle of Wight Ferry; Yacht Club) of Lymington. However, like New Forest East, it does extend beyond the strict limits of the forest to include other territory. It extends north to Fordingbridge up one of the river Avons (the one that flows through Salisbury, not Stratford or Bristol). In effect, this constituency covers south west Hampshire, as at present defined, given the change of the boundary with Dorset in 1974. It also includes part of the coast east of Bournemouth, including New Milton, which is actually the largest community in the constituency, even if its inland parish of Bashley is not included. Unlike in New Forest East, these non-forest sections do not have Liberal Democrat tendencies, and they also contribute heavily to another different characteristic of the seat as a whole, which is its fairly extreme age profile. In the 2011 census, this seat ranked 4th out of the 650 in the UK in its proportion of those aged 65 or over, at 29.4% - and this percentage would be even more marked if actual voters are considered, given that turnout generally rises with age. On the coast Barton ward recorded 44.5% over 65, and Milford 43% - these would clearly have a majority of voters who are pensioners. In the 2019 general election, the correlation of Conservative voting with rising age was stronger than ever before, mainly because of the level of support for the chief issue of Brexit; New Forest West is not estimated to be much more inclined to Brexit than average, but there are other indicators of its very strong inclination to Conservatism. It ranks 2nd out of 650 (47%) for housing ‘owned outright’, that is without need of a mortgage – which is probably connected with the age pattern, but also the low provision of social housing, at just 10% of all housing stock. Unlike the East section of the New Forest, this seat has never seen a hint of marginality or Conservative vulnerability. Its first contest, in 1997, was the closest, and even then Desmond Swayne (its only ever representative) won by 11,332 (22.8%). It has fairly consistently become safer at each election since. UKIP finished second in 2015 and Labour in 2017, but in 2019 the Liberal Democrats regained the (distant) second place they had held from 1997 to 2010. The Greens achieved a respectable 3,888 votes and saved their deposit, but Swayne won by over 24,000. In the 1990s Michael Dobbs drama House of Cards, New Forest was the constituency of the fictional Machiavellian Tory Francis Urquhart. It was presumably picked as an archetypal safe seat rather than for any more sinister reasons. After the division of the united seat in 1997, most of it went into New Forest West – which has satisfied the requirement for ultra-safety, but definitely not for drama.
Owner-occupied 74.8% 74/650 Private rented 12.8% 403/650 Social rented 10.2% 575/650 White 97.8% 152/650 Black 0.2% 544/650 Asian 1.0% 527/650 Managerial & professional 35.5% Routine & Semi-routine 23.0% Degree level 28.8% 216/650 No qualifications 22.1% 361/650 Students 5.1% 627/650 Age 65+ 29.4% 4/650
General Election 2019: New Forest West
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Desmond Swayne 32,113 63.8 -3.0 Liberal Democrats Jack Davies 7,710 15.3 +5.7 Labour Jo Graham 6,595 13.1 -6.5 Green Nicholas Bubb 3,888 7.7 +4.8