The South West region covers the counties of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon, Somerset and Cornwall, as well as areas formerly part of the county of Avon. Major centres include Bristol, Bournemouth, Swindon, Plymouth, Bath, Gloucester and Torbay.
In 2005, the Conservatives won 22 seats, the Liberal Democrats won 16 and Labour won 13.
The recent redistribution saw a number of extra seats added to the South West. According to UK Polling Report, the Conservatives gained four seats, the Liberal Democrats gained one seat and Labour lost one seat. Labour lost a seat in North East Somerset. The Lib Dems lost the seat of Somerton & Frome, but gained a sixth seat in Cornwall and the newly created seat of Chippenham. The Conservative gains include new seats in Devon and South Gloucestershire, as well as a Labour seat in North East Somerset and a Lib Dem seat in Somerset which flipped to Conservative.
Labour is clearly the third party in the South West, and in most of the seats in the South West the contest is between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. The Conservatives are the largest party in the counties of Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, and the redistribution also gives them a majority of seats in Somerset. Every seat in Cornwall is held by the Liberal Democrats. Labour holds four seats in a cluster around Bristol. They also hold two seats in Plymouth, two in Swindon, one in Exeter, one in Dorset and two in Gloucestershire.
The Liberal Democrats have a large number of marginal seats in the South West that are vulnerable to the Conservatives. If there is a swing to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats can’t hold their position in the South West they could sustain a number of losses.
- 1987 – 43 CON, 2 LIB, 1 LAB, 1 SDP
- 1992 – 37 CON, 6 LD, 4 LAB
- 1997 – 22 CON, 15 LAB, 14 LD
- 2001 – 20 CON, 16 LAB, 15 LD
- 2005 – 22 CON, 16 LD, 13 LAB
In 1987, Labour only won a single seat in the region, Bristol South, while two Liberals and one Social Democrat were elected. The Liberal Democrats and Labour both gained ground in 1992, but the Conservatives remained heavily dominant. This included one of the most remarkable results of the election when Conservative Party chairman Chris Patten lost his seat of Bath to the Liberal Democrats.
The Conservatives have managed to remain the largest party in the South West throughout the years of the Blair government, with Labour and Liberal Democrats level-pegging in terms of seats, although the Liberal Democrats overtook Labour in 2005.
The key seats
- St Austell & Newquay – This Cornwall seat is held by the Liberal Democrats by a slim margin over the Conservatives. It is a new seat that UK Polling Report estimates is 13th on the Conservative target list.
- North Cornwall, South East Cornwall, Truro & Falmouth – These three Cornwall seats are all held by the Lib Dems with greater margins than St Austell & Newquay. All three seats are held by margins of about 13%, lying 118th, 124th and 126th on the Conservative target list, which is about what the Conservatives need to win 300 seats nationally.
- Cheltenham, Chippenham, Newton Abbott, Torbay – These four Lib Dem seats cover major towns in the region and are all vulnerable to the Conservatives.
- Taunton Deane, Somerton & Frome – These two Lib Dem seats in Somerset are both threatened by the Conservatives. Taunton Deane has switched back and forth between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives since 1997. Somerton is now considered by UK Polling Report to be notionally held by the Conservatives, while Taunton Deane is 26th on the Conservative target list. These seats will be key in determining whether the Lib Dems have managed to hold off the Conservative attack in the South West.
- Bristol North West – This Labour seat is a possible three-cornered contest. It is 17th on the Conservative target list and 44th on the Lib Dem list.
- Filton & Bradley Stoke – This new seat lies on the northern fringe of Bristol. It is notionally Conservative, but it is also high on the target lists for both Labour and Lib Dem.
- North Swindon, South Swindon – These two Labour seats are 33rd and 57th on the Conservative target list.
- Stroud – Lying south of Gloucester, this Labour seat is 16th on the Conservative target list.
- South Dorset – This Labour seat is 35th on the Conservative target list.
- Central Devon, Torridge & West Devon, Totnes – These three Conservative seats lie 11th, 17th and 19th on the Lib Dem target list. In the case of a strong Lib Dem result these seats will be very vulnerable. The Conservtives held an open primary to select their candidate in Totnes, which should shore up their support.