Robert Walter held this seat for the Conservatives in 1997 with a majority of just 2,746 votes, with the Liberal Democrats in second place. The seat had previously been held by Sir Nicholas Baker with a majority of over 10,000 votes.
The constituency is made up of attractive countryside and well-off commuter villages, with a 99.5% white population and a fifth of the workforce self-employed. Most other workers are in managerial or technical positions, and there is very little council housing. The area also benefits economically from the presence of Blandford army camp, which is the headquarters of the Royal Corps of Signals - the Army’s computer department.
The main towns of Shaftesbury and Blandford Forum are small, independent market towns, the latter destroyed completely by fire in 1731 along with its three fire engines. It was rebuilt in Georgian splendour, helped by a grant of £1000 from George II, and attracts many tourists to the region.