A review of Prof. Dr Melanie Sully’s Lecture “Britain goes to the Polls” on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, Musiksalon, Diplomatic Academy.

By Wolfgang Geissler

I believe it would be helpful for my readers to introduce and explain, right at the beginning, as a sort of glossary, the terms used by Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully during her lecture.

Political Science encompasses the study of the state, governmental systems, and the scientific analysis of political activity and behaviour. Within this discipline lies psephology, a branch that employs quantitative analysis to examine elections and voting behaviour. Psephology aims to explain electoral outcomes using scientific methods and is closely tied to political forecasting.

A prominent figure in psephology is Sir David Edgeworth Butler, often dubbed the “father of modern election science” and the “sultan of swing.” Butler’s contributions include the development of iconic tools like the Swingometer, crucial for analyzing election results. His expertise spans decades of post-war general elections, both as an academic and a television pundit.

Research within psephology utilises methods such as Multilevel Regression and Poststratification (MRP) to offer insights into party competitiveness within constituencies, aiding voters in tactical decision-making. Analysis of constituency boundaries reveals potential shifts in parliamentary majorities and electoral dynamics, shedding light on the evolving landscape of British politics.

In the UK, the electorate, totalling 47,558,398 as of March 2, 2020, is divided among 650 constituencies, with five holding special status. This leaves 47,338,266 voters across 645 constituencies. Each non-special constituency must maintain a voter count within 5% of the electoral quota, set at 73,393. Northern Ireland, however, allows for a wider range, from 68,313 to 77,062, under specific conditions.

I sincerely hope this clarifies matters and also explains why Professor Dr. Sully would not be inclined to forecast the possible outcome of this year’s General Election, despite the valiant efforts of our President, Professor Dr. Kurt Tiroch, to encourage her. Psephology reminds me a bit of Quantum Physics, where you grapple with Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and are left with probabilities.

Yesterday’s lecture at the Diplomatic Academy tackled a timely and compelling topic: “Britain goes to the Polls.” As we embarked on this journey through the intricacies of the UK’s parliamentary elections, led by Prof. Dr. Melanie Sully, the prominent British political scientist in Austria and Board Member of the Austro-British Society, we find ourselves at the threshold of historical significance. This year marks a super election year, not only for Austria but also for the United Kingdom, as it gears up for its first general election post-Brexit. With the potential to redefine electoral paradigms, our discussion traversed a spectrum of themes, from the evolution of UK elections since 1945 to the current state of parliamentary parties, threats to democracy, and the nuances of economic factors in political landscapes. We deftly delved into the complexities of personalities, programmes, and the ever-persistent conundrum of polls, predictions, and the attendant problems they entail.

Amongst the many photos I published, you will also find the slides Professor Sully used in her lecture. This should be helpful.

In addition to the substantive content covered in yesterday’s lecture, it’s worth noting the engaging and humorous delivery characteristic of Prof. Dr. Sully. Her insightful commentary was complemented by her witty remarks and the intelligent contributions of our members, adding depth and breadth to our exploration of British politics. This was aided by Prof. Dr. Tiroch’s experienced handling of the moderation, guiding the discussion with finesse and ensuring a lively and productive exchange of ideas. It is this combination of expertise, humour, and camaraderie that truly made yesterday’s lecture a memorable and enriching experience for all involved, which spilled over into the atrium where wine and canapés were already waiting for us.

[1]Margaret Anne Lake (27 July 1942 – 9 March 2023), best known by her stage name Mystic Meg, was an English astrologer who had a regular astrology column in The Sun and the News of the World. She came to greater public attention when she hosted what became a regular item on the first broadcast of the National Lottery draw in 1994. Her image also appears on various astrology-related books, posters and merchandise.