Some parliamentary constituencies are familiar, either in the sense that they have a long tradition and history or they are named after a well-known place. Meon Valley comes into neither of these categories, but rather in the ‘where the …. may that be?!’ box. The answer is that it is the extra seat created in south eastern Hampshire in the review that came into force in 2010. In fact it includes some delightful countryside and villages and is well worth getting to know. When brand new, Meon Valley took 57% of its electorate from the former East Hampshire, 42% from Winchester and the balance of a few hundred voters from Havant. The ‘notional’ figures for a hypothetical 2005 election in Meon Valley (from which future swings could be estimated) suggested that the Liberal Democrats might be able to challenge the Conservatives here, which was over-optimistic because the Winchester seat had recorded a majority of nearly 8,000 for Mark Oaten MP in 2005. However since that time Oaten had run into difficulties and he did not stand anywhere in 2010; Winchester was lost by 3,000 and the inaugural Meon Valley contest resulted in a comfortable victory for the Tory, George Hollingbery, who won by 12,000 with 56% of the vote; a very sound majority, but in the three subsequent elections it has been approximately double that, ranging between 25,692 (2017 over Labour) to 23,555 (2019 over Liberal Democrat). In the latter year, Hollingbery was replaced by the former Portsmouth South MP Felicia ‘Flick’ Drummond. This, then, has turned out to be a very safe Conservative seat. Why so? It is affluent, for a start. It ranks 9th among the list by proportion of those householdsowning three or more cars. Over 77% of housing is owner occupied, which places Meon Valley well into the top decile of constituencies. The same applies to its ranking (32nd) of seats with the most higher managers and administrators. But it is in the bottom half of constituencies for full time students, not particularly high for educational qualifications, and is estimated to have voted very similarly to the country as a whole in the 2016 referendum, which means a majority voted to Leave the EU – whereas some neighbouring Hampshire seats like Winchester were in the Remain column. This too will have strengthened Meon Valley’s Conservatism in the 2015-19 period. Also, as suggested above, there are some beautiful and desirable residential areas. For example, take a drive along the A32 north from Wickham, with its large and elegant square, along the valley of the river Meon itself, watercress beds and all, through Droxford, Corhampton and West & East Meon themselves. If interested in cricket, deviate to Hambledon, with its Broadhalfpenny Down site of the club founded in 1750 and sometimes known as the ‘cradle of cricket’, and also to the private ground of the Hampshire Hogs near Warnford. In fact this area is not the main centre of population, which lie not along the Meon but elsewhere; the largest communities are tucked into the corner of this seat nearest to Portsmouth: Waterlooville in the Havant borough section and neighbouring Horndean (both previously in East Hampshire constituency). The only town in the Winchester borough section is Bishop’s Waltham, which has many old buildings including the ruins of the palace built for the 12th century Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois (brother of King Stephen, grandson of William the Conqueror, and a formidable political player in his own right) – but it is on the River Hamble, not the Meon. Despite the name, therefore, there is some feeing that this constituency is cobbled together from disparate parts. What is not disparate is its political preference. The Havant borough section is solidly Conservative, despite the presence of social housing in the Hart Plain ward. So in general is the Horndean section from East Hampshire, though the Liberal Democrats narrowly took Horndean Murray in May 2019. The Liberal Democrats also had a few successes in the Winchester borough section, in Whiteley & Shedfield and Southwick & Wickham. Much of the detailed last minute planning for D Day took place at Southwick (this Hampshire one, not the larger town on the Sussex coast), lying as it does just over the downs from Portsmouth, as Southwick House (still in the hands of the Armed Forces) was Eisenhower’s SHAEF headquarters. Any party other than the Conservatives planning a campaign to liberate the Meon Valley seat might well need a similar massive effort.
General election 2019: Meon Valley Party Candidate Votes % ± Conservative Flick Drummond 35,271 64.3 -1.4 Liberal Democrats Lewis North 11,716 21.4 +10.5 Labour Matthew Bunday 5,644 10.3 -8.0 Green Malcolm Wallace 2,198 4.0 +1.6 Majority 23,555 43.0 -4.4 Turnout 54,829 64.3 -0.6 Conservative hold