Part A : Defining democracy
• Defined as:
• a system of government where the people either make political decisions themselves or have direct influence upon them.
• In a democracy people have free access to information.
• Government is elected and is accountable to the people.
• The rule of law applies.
• There is a peaceful transfer of power from one government to the next.
• Government is carried on in the interests of the people.
• There is a high degree of political freedom.
Describing direct democracy
• The people make decisions themselves; there is continuous and unmediated participation. Representatives do not make decisions on behalf of citizens.
• People themselves determine what decisions should be considered (known as initiatives), and a vote is taken on the issue by the people. In purely direct systems, the outcome is binding.
• Policy decisions are broken down into simple yes and no answers.
• Ancient Athens acts as an example from classical history, but more recent incarnations can be seen in US states, where initiatives, propositions, and referendums are common.
• People are directly consulted when government makes decisions (also called consultative democracy), and these can take the form of peoples’ panels, or citizens’ juries. “e-democracy” could also be included.
• The use of referendums in the UK could be classified as “quasi-direct democracy” since the outcome is only advisory. Though as yet no elected legislature in the UK has ignored the will of the people.
• Held to determine a specific political question.
• Voters are asked to determine the answer to a question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
• Although referendums in Britain are not legally binding, they effectively force Government and Parliament to conform to their outcomes.
• They are used normally to determine an important political or constitutional question.
• In Britain it is the decision of Government and Parliament whether to hold a referendum.
• Classified as instruments of direct democracy.
• To help government resolve an internal conflict, for example the 1975 referendum to determine whether Britain should remain in the European community when the Labour Cabinet was split on the issue.
• To allow voters to have a direct say in important changes to how they are governed such as the 1998 vote on whether London should have an elected mayor.
• Legitimacy is closely related to authority (defined as the right to use power).
• It refers to the degree to which a body or a government can be justified in exercising power.
• It might be argued that the House of Commons is legitimate because it is elected while the House of Lords is not because it is not elected.
• However, the legitimacy of government in Britain may be challenged because it is always elected on less than a majority of the votes.
• A foreign regime may be legitimate because its government is widely recognised, but legitimacy might be disputed, as with Kosovo.
• Instead of making decisions themselves, people elect or appoint representatives to make decisions on their behalf. Different models of representation exist.
• Delegation is where representatives reflect very accurately the wishes and demands of those who have elected or appointed them, e.g. delegates to party conferences.
• ‘Burkean’ representation implies that a representative is elected or chosen to use their judgment rather than slavishly to follow the wishes of those whom they represent.
• Party representation is the most common form in Britain. Here representatives represent a party manifesto or its official policies, rather than their own views, except under exceptional or particular circumstances.
• People in a democracy are normally represented by members of Parliament (or the legislature), parties and pressure groups.
Describing representative democracy
• Decisions are by representatives rather than by the people themselves.
• Representatives are normally elected, though they might be appointed.
• Representative institutions exist – parliaments and elected assemblies.
• Representatives are expected to make decisions and policies on the basis of popular opinion, or having consulted those whom they represent.
• Normally characterised by political parties and pressure groups.
Explaining ‘liberal democracy’
• The term used to describe most, modern established western democracies such as Britain or the USA.
• It is characterised by free and fair elections.
• Government is limited, usually by a constitution- ( a written record of the body of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organisation is acknowledged to be governed. )
• Government is accountable to the people.
• The rule of law applies with all citizens equal under the law and government itself subject to legal constraints. This implies an independent judiciary
.• There is normally some degree of separation of powers between branches of government, with internal checks and balances – implying a strong, entrenched constitution.
• There are special arrangements, often a ‘bill of rights’, protecting the rights of individuals and minorities.
• The transition of power from one government to the next is peaceful, i.e. the losing parties accept the authority of the winners.
• The existence of representative institutions.
• There is free access to independent (from government) sources of political information implying freedom of expression and free media.
• It is described as ‘liberal’ largely because it conforms to the nineteenth century philosophies of political liberalism as expounded by such figures as James Madison, Abraham Lincoln and John Stuart Mill, as well as being contained in the founding principles of the United Nations.
Part B: Advantages of representative democracy
• The people cannot be regularly expected to consider and make important decisions. They often have neither the time, knowledge nor the interest. Therefore representatives can do so on their behalf.
• Representatives have the time and hopefully expertise to consider political issues rationally, and become experts in considering complex issues.
• Representatives have a role in educating the public about political issues.
• Representatives can ensure that the interests of different sections of society are taken into account in political decisions.
• Representatives can be held accountable for their decisions to ensure democratic outcomes.
• Representatives can ‘aggregate’ demands of the people, making them increasingly coherent, and develop logical political programmes.
Disadvantages (and problems) of representative dem
• Representatives, and parties, may distort the demands of the people to suit their own political ends.
• The people may fail to respect the decisions made by their representatives. They cannot be removed from office normally until the next election.
• The idea of the electoral mandate is flawed in that voters are only presented with a manifesto, the whole of which they must accept or reject. Voters cannot express preferences within various election manifestoes.
• Representatives do not make themselves accountable enough between elections.
• Today, when the public is better informed and has access to a wide range of independent information, they are able to make key decisions for themselves.
• Representatives may make decisions purely for electoral advantage (e.g. tax cutting, expenditure raising), even though such decisions may be unwise.
Advantages of using referendums to determine polit
• It is the most direct, purest form of democracy.
• The fact that the people have made the decision grants it a great deal of legitimacy. This is especially true where decisions concern the system of government (The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland).
• Referendums are useful in securing the consent of the people for important constitutional and governmental change (devolution).
• There is a citizenship issue in that referendums give people the opportunity to participate directly in politics and so may increase their attachment to political institutions (e.g. decision to have elected mayors in London and other localities).
• They have an educational function, raising citizens’ awareness of issues. This might have been the case, argued the Lib Dems, had there been a referendum on a new constitution for the EU in 2007/8.
• It can help to entrench constitutional change in a system which has an uncodified, flexible constitution (devolution again).
• Sometimes referendums can solve a problem for government itself when there is a good deal of internal conflict. This was the background to the 1975 referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Community.
Disadvantages of using referendums to determine po
• If referendums become too frequent there will be a danger of ‘voter fatigue’, resulting in low turnouts and apathy. Very much the case in the 2004 vote on devolution to England’s North-East.
• Referendums may have the effect of undermining respect and authority for elected institutions, notably MPs and Parliament.
• There is Rousseau’s and John Stuart Mill’s argument that referendums represent the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Minority interest would be swamped by the power of the democratic majority. This has been seen in one of the capitals of direct democracy, California, where the infamous Prop 8 overturned the right of same sex couples to marry.
• Many issues, such as those concerning the European single currency or a European constitution, may be too complex for the average voter to understand. Perhaps these decisions are best left to those who have knowledge and the means to reflect of the various complexities.
• Similarly voters may respond to emotional, rather than rational arguments. Again the issue of the euro would be a possible victim of this effect.
• There is a danger with referendums that voters would be swayed by campaigns of newspapers, notably tabloids, or by wealthy vested interests who can afford to spend large amounts of money on the campaign. This is certainly a noticeable feature of initiatives in the USA.
• Similarly voters might make illogical choices in referendums, for example voting for tax cuts which might result in the collapse of public services. The size of California’s budget crisis can be partly attributed to the legacy of tax cutting referendums in the past (these have severely restricted the ability of politicians to correct the deficit).
Distinctions between direct and representative dem
• This is a question of comparing the definitions of the two types of democracy described above in the (a) section notes. However, you should specifically draw out the distinctions, i.e.:
• Direct democracy is purer.
• Referendums may carry more legitimacy than decisions made by government and Parliament.
• Direct democracy tends to operate with constitutional change, whereas representative democracy concerns to day-to-day, year-to-year running of the country.
• Representative democracy will weigh up the different interests of sections of society whereas direct democracy represents the crude view of the majority.
• Representatives are accountable for their decisions while the people cannot be accountable to themselves.
C:evaluating the arguments for the use of referend
• There are potentially a number of key changes which would alter the nature of the constitution and system of government. Such changes require the consent of the people. These include the adoption of the euro, a change to Westminster’s electoral system, and perhaps the adoption of new constitutional arrangements within the EU. On the other hand it could be argued that such changes are extremely complex and therefore difficult for people with limited knowledge to assess.
• With increasing information available, especially through the Internet, a free independent media and the spread of news media, people are in a better position than ever before to assess political issues. This can be countered with the argument that it is difficult to separate fact from opinion, especially on the Internet.
• It could be argued that democracy is increasingly essential and referendums represent the purest form of democracy and so should be encouraged. Perhaps more attention should be paid to improving the quality of government (improving scrutiny, or management and delivery of services such as billion pound IT projects that frequently go wrong) than increasing the frequency that the public are invited to participate at the ballot box.
• Referendums are commonplace in Europe and the USA and this would bring Britain into line with modern practice. This can be strongly challenged by the possibility that representative institutions, such as Parliament and parties will be undermined at a time when they are already losing public confidence.
• The general arguments in favour of referendums can be countered by the problems that they bring. This include the problem of ‘voter fatigue’, the tendency of voters to be swayed by emotion, not reason and the fact that wealthy vested interests, or the tabloids, might be able to determine the outcome of referendums on a non-rational basis (see disadvantages of referendums above).
Assessing whether Britain can be described as a tr
• We could say that there are free elections. Virtually all are entitled to vote and stand for office. Elections in Britain are, by and large, fairly run and there is little corruption. However there is a strong argument that elections to the Westminster Parliament are unfair. (include material demonstrating the distorting effects of first past the post.) Elections to devolved assemblies, however, are fairer.
• The existence of an elected, accountable House of Commons is a positive element, but the House of Lords (to date anyway) remains unelected and so fails the ‘democracy test’.
• All citizens are represented by an MP and can expect their grievances to be taken up and represented to public bodies by MPs. But the MPs’ expenses scandal has caused the public to wonder whose interests are elected representatives are willing to put first.
• Britain has now passed the Human Rights Act so the European Convention is binding on most public bodies. However, legal experts have pointed out that the ECHR has only been applied in a tiny number of cases, and most of the victories secured would have happened without reference to the ECHR.
Assessing whether Britain can be described as a tr
• There is a free, independent civil society, with many parties and pressure groups free to operate and to mobilise public opinion and represent popular demands to government. Though actions taken against public demonstrators, such as the G20 demo where people were detained for up to eight hours, put this into question.
• There is a free media which is not controlled by government so the public have access to independent sources of information. That said, newspapers have no obligation to be politically neutral and may distort the message.
• The rule of law applies and is protected by a largely independent judiciary. But statistical evidence shows that when the government is challenged in the courts it still wins far more cases than it loses.
• There are a number of general criticisms of the British political system which can be added to the assessment. These include: the persistence of unelected elements such as the Monarchy and House of Lords, the lack of separation of powers and therefore, arguably, an over-powerful executive and the lack of a codified, entrenched constitution.
Improving democracy in Britain 1
• There are concerns that the executive is too strong and Britain is an ‘elective dictatorship’. To correct this Parliament needs to be strengthened. This might involve introducing proportional representation to remove the almost automatic government majority in the Commons. It might involve more parliamentary powers – Brown did promise to grant powers of veto over some public appointments, declaring war and signing treaties.
• The electoral system for general elections is considered undemocratic because it distorts representation and does not reflect voters’’ true choices. Proportional representation seems to have made Scotland and Wales more democratic so could be introduced for the Westminster Parliament.
• Individual rights are a concern. Parliament can still overrule the European Convention. If the European Convention on Human Rights or a similar Bill of Rights were made supreme, the system may be more democratic in terms of rights.
• The problem of declining political participation in party politics threatens democracy. Voting turnout is a major problem. Possibly we might seek to tighten up on the millions of unregistered voters, or introduce compulsory voting or devices (by post, or text, or over the Internet) to encourage more voting. Perhaps lower the voting age to 16.
Improving democracy in Britain 2
• Though referendums are used there is a case for extending their use. In addition there could be extensions to the e-petitions experiment after the success of the Internet poll on road pricing proposals.
• The lack of a codified, entrenched constitution, implying an effective separation of powers and checks and balances, as seen in the USA, is a problem that might be addressed.
• The House of Lords is seen as an undemocratic anachronism. Proposals for it to be partly or fully elected can be seen as a democratic improvement.
• Though devolution seems a success, it is argued that both regional and local government in the UK could be strengthened to reduce over-centralisation of power.
• Other issues where reform of the democracy may not have gone far enough are freedom of information, reform of the judiciary to make it more independent and reform of the House of Commons to make it more effective.
• The issue of the monarchy can also be raised. Is it time to have a democratically elected head of state?
Assessing how representative the UK system is 1
• We are all represented equally by an MP who will take up our grievances in Parliament and directly to government itself. However, many MPs simply follow party lines and this inhibits their ability to act independently as representatives. It also has to be said that both Houses of parliament are not socially representative, with a lack of women and members of ethnic minorities. There is also a heavy middle class bias.
• Although we have free elections, it can be argued that the first past the post system at general elections distorts representation. To counter this it can be said that the elected Parliament and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland use fairer systems and so there is fairer representation.
• We have many pressure groups with active support and memberships who represent effectively the many interests and causes in society. However it could be argued that wealthy vested interests dominate and so representation is again distorted. It could also be argued that minorities are under-represented. It may also be true that some pressure groups do not accurately represent the views of their members.
Assessing how representative the UK system is 2
• We could argue that government itself is not representative enough. Although it is accountable through Parliament and at elections, it may not be responsive enough to the demands of the public and may not represent public opinion accurately. This may be especially true when there is no general election imminent.
• Although it is not elected, the House of Lords does contain members who represent various sections of the community. There are representatives of different industries, causes, voluntary organisations, worker groups, NHS patient groups, professions and occupations etc. That said, peers are not accountable so their representative role can be questioned.
• Although there have been some changes to local government structures, e.g. directly elected mayors, there is a strong argument that local government is not representative. Turnouts at local elections are notoriously low and local party cliques may not be representative and operate in their own interests. Not all experiments with elected mayorships were taken seriously, e.g. in Hartlepool they chose a man dressed as a monkey
Explaining how, why and to what extent political p
• Membership of political parties has been falling dramatically – from a high of about 2 million in the early 1980s to about 600,000 in 2008. There are also less party activists. The reasons include a growing disillusion with party politics, the decline of ideological politics so that many people have a weaker allegiance to one party.
• Parties are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit candidates for election at local level.
• Election turnout has been falling. From a postwar ‘norm’ of about 75% in general elections, in 2001 and 2005 turnout was down to around 60% and only revived slightly to 65% in 2010, all despite attempts to make voting easier, notably extending postal voting. It is argued that this is a part of a long term disengagement with politics and parties in particular. However, others say it is a temporary phenomenon, caused by the fact that the results were seen as a foregone conclusion, or that there was a degree of ‘contentment culture’ because of economic success in Britain. This suggests there is no long term problem in terms of voting. There was an encouragingly high turnout in the election of the London Mayor in 2008.
Explaining how, why and to what extent political p
• We have also seen the growth of partisan dealignment and loss of identification with parties. This has led to a loss of interests and activism in party politics.
• To counter the arguments suggesting participation is falling, we have seen rises in pressure group membership and activity. There has also been the rise of ‘new social movements’ which involve large amounts of people being mobilised in a cause. The successful mobilisation of large numbers by the anti-Iraq war movement, the Countryside Alliance and Make Poverty History, etc. Over a million people also took part in 2007 in an e-petition to Downing Street concerning road pricing policy. These also indicate a growing level of participation in single issue politics.
• Government itself is also involving more people in policy making processes with citizens’ forums, juries, focus groups etc. Local authorities also regularly consult members of the community about their services.
• In Scotland, particularly, the devolved system allows for devices such as citizens’ petitions and public consultations by parliamentary committees, bringing more people into the political process.
Part A: Defining a pressure group
• An association of people which seeks to influence public policy and decision making.
• Some pressure groups aim to further the interests of a section of society, seeking friendly legislation, amending existing legislation or preventing unfriendly legislation. Examples of sectional groups are Help the Aged (pensioners) or trade unions.
• Other groups are concerned with a cause such as the environment (Friends of the Earth), world poverty (Make Poverty History) or animal welfare (RSPCA) and seek friendly policy and to raise the public profile of the issue and mobilise public opinion in its favour.
• Pressure groups do not seek governmental power via the electoral process, but rather to influence policy.
Classification of Pressure Groups- Promotional and
• The main classification is promotional (or ‘cause’ or ‘issue’) groups and sectional (or ‘interest’) groups.
• Promotional groups are concerned with a cause or issue and so are interested in the welfare of the community in general. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace are a perfect example. They are not self-interested, and membership is open.
• Sectional groups are self-interested. They seek to further the interests of their own members or the specific group they represent. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) or National Farmers Union (NFU) are good examples. Some have a formal membership, other simply represent a section of society.
Classification of Insider Pressure Groups
• Insider groups are those which have a ‘special’ or intimate relationship with government and other public bodies, such as agencies, commissions, or other quangos.
These groups are frequently consulted and sometimes have a semi-formal place in governing circles. They may have places reserved for their representatives on official committees, which consider policy and legislation.
There are insider groups in devolved governments and in the European Union where ‘registered’ groups have special access to the European Commission and the European Parliament. Typical examples are the National Farmers’ Union, the Auto-mobile Association or the RSPCA.
Some groups, such as the National Consumer Council or the Commission for Equality and Human Rights have actually been set up, and are funded, by government itself. Most (but not all) insiders are sectional groups.
Classification of Outsiders Pressure Groups
• Outsider groups do not enjoy such special status as Insider groups, either through choice or because government does not wish to be closely associated with them.
They seek to influence policy mainly by mobilising public opinion and demonstrating the strength of feeling over an issue.
They tend to use public and media campaigns to further their issue.
Most are promotional groups, such as Make Poverty History or Greenpeace, though there are some sectional groups who are outsiders. Trade unions are now largely outsiders, having been insiders before the 1980s.
• Pluralism is a description of a society and, more specifically, of a political system. It refers to the fact that many different cultural and religious groups, or political views and ideologies are allowed to flourish together.
• It can also refer to the idea that power in a pluralist society is more widely distributed among individuals and groups, implying that pressure group power isn’t concentrated either.
• Pressure groups do not form part of an elite ruling group, and neither do some pressure groups possessing a more permanent influence than others. Groups compete on a level playing field, often with an equal and opposite pressure group lobbying for their side, e.g. Forest v ASH would each have a fair say on the smoking debate.
• It also refers to a political environment where different groups and associations, such as parties, pressure groups and religions, are tolerated, are free to express opinions and to campaign for office or for influence.
• Pluralism is associated with the concept of ‘civil society’ which is a description of the groups and associations which exist within a democracy and which are independent of government.
• Pluralism can be contrasted with political systems described as more totalitarian or autocratic in nature. Here such groups and belief systems are suppressed and a more singular set of political beliefs is imposed.
• Referring to a characteristic of some societies and political systems. It suggests that those who hold power – political, economic and social – are a relatively narrow, ‘elite’ section of society.
• It therefore suggests that power may be concentrated within a narrow section of society such as senior political figures, those who possess wealth, those who run major businesses and corporations, possibly leaders of the arts or culture generally, possibly in some societies military or even religious leadership.
• Elitism therefore suggests that the people in general and groups outside government hold little or no influence. In this sense it is the opposite of pluralism and is often seen as anti-democratic.
• Importantly, the concept or theory of elitism also implies that certain pressure groups wield more power and influence than others. This could be due to size, status, compatibility with the government’s aims, or other factors. For instance, the construction industry is more powerful than the anti-roads lobby.
Distinctions between parties and pressure groups
• The main distinction is that parties seek governmental power or a share in power whereas pressure groups are not seeking governmental power, but only to influence government.
• For the above reason parties must be prepared to be accountable for their policies and decisions, while pressure groups do not.
• Pressure groups almost always campaign on a narrow range of issues whereas parties have to develop policies across the whole range of public business.
• Parties always have a formal membership while many pressure groups do not have membership or only a small, informal membership.
• The main route via which parties seek power is at election time. Whilst some pressure groups also contest elections, it is a secondary or tertiary tactic, i.e. in order to gain value exposure to the oxygen of media coverage.
Part B: How can pressure groups be classified?
• For a part (b) question you should use the four classifications described above, i.e. promotional and sectional, insider and outsider.
• Describe the distinctions between promotional and sectional groups, drawing out the distinctions clearly. Use examples as shown or similar.
• Describe the distinctions between insiders and outsiders. Again draw out the distinctions and use examples.
Why might it be difficult to distinguish between p
• Some pressure groups, such as the CBI or large trade unions do develop a wide range of policies often beyond their own narrow concerns. Some large trade unions are even interested in foreign policy issues. Environment groups such as Friends of the Earth are also interested beyond the narrow confines of the environment, including issues about rights, the economy, world trade and poverty and democracy.
• Some large pressure groups have put up candidates for election to various levels of government, for example anti-abortion campaigners. These are often known as ‘single issue parties’. It could be argued that the BNP is effectively a single issue party since it is so dominated by race and immigration issues.
• Some associations are both parties and pressure groups, notably the Green Party and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). These are former pressure groups which have become parties. UKIP used to be only interested in bringing the UK out of the EU, now it has become a general conservative, nationalist party, further to the right of the Conservative Party itself.
• Some groups have been or have become so closely associated with parties that they can be seen as a part or faction of those parties. This has long been true of unions and the Labour Party. It can also be seen in terms of the Institute of Directors and the Conservatives and right campaign group Liberty and the Liberal Democrats.
How do pressure groups seek to influence governmen
• Insider groups work largely within government. They seek to have places on policy committees and units, they provide regular written reports, often showing research findings (British Medical Association - BMA), give evidence to parliamentary committees and try to arrange meetings directly with ministers and civil servants. They may also become directly involved in the drafting of legislation (e.g. the National Consumer Council or the Law Commission).
• Outsider groups – usually promotional groups – largely seek to mobilise public opinion. They do this to place their issues on the public and political agenda. They also try to persuade policy makers that many people support the issue and that the government may gain votes by supporting the group (note Help the Aged with its huge section of supporters). Typically they organise media campaigns (Jamie Oliver and school meals, largely supported by BMA and Nation Union of Teachers), organise public demonstrations (Make Poverty History) and may use stunts which gain publicity (Fathers 4 Justice).
• Sectional groups usually seek insider status. They may also take direct action – notably trade unions who organise strikes and other industrial action. Important groups in society such as the police or doctors and nurses may threaten non-compliance with new policies.
• Some groups, often promotional, may operate outside the law. Examples are the Animal Liberation Front or Greenpeace. They hope to gain publicity in this way.
Why have pressure groups become more important in
• A key reason is the decline of political parties and public identification with parties. (partisan dealignment) Membership of parties has fallen from a high point of about 2 million total in the early 1980s to estimated figures in 2008 of about 400,000.
• Disillusionment with parties and politics in general has led to more identification with pressure groups which do not suffer the same loss of public confidence.
• People have become more interested in single issue politics, rather than in the broader policies or ideologies of parties. Parties are less ideological than they used to be and there is more political consensus. Attention therefore centres more on issues than broad policies.
• In the Internet age and the growth in importance of communications and media, government feels the need to pay more attention to public opinion. If voters are more interested in issues than in party beliefs, government must be sensitive to public opinion. Pressure groups are a key indicator of public opinion.
Why have pressure groups become more important in
• Government is ever more complex and technical. Therefore governments increasingly need pressure groups to inform them about opinion, demands, needs and, in some cases, about changes in society in general.
• Growing affluence has meant that people in general have more activities and interests which lead to demands for policy change. Examples are sport, environment, travel, the arts and entertainment.
• Britain’s media have become increasingly active in campaigning on political issues. This has provided more effective vehicles for pressure groups to pursue their causes and interests.
• There are now more opportunities for pressure groups to access decision makers. These include the more open political systems of devolved government, local government and the European Union. Pressure groups have also become increasingly involved in the courts, using judicial reviews and appeals to further the interests of members. Appeals for the release of new drug treatments by the NHS are good examples, as are appeals to the European Court of Justice on various aspects of workers’ rights
How do some pressure groups achieve success? 1
• It is worth defining ‘success’. This would mean the prevention of unfriendly legislation (groups campaigning against the approval of super-casinos), the passage of friendly legislation (Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and the public smoking ban). Amendments to legislation (Countryside Alliance and the anti-fox hunting legislation) and simply raising public and political awareness of an issue (environment, campaign group Liberty and human rights issues).
• Achieving insider status (inside status methods) can promote success. Farming and environment groups in the UK and the European Union are good examples. (Nation Farmers Union, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth)
• A factor in success is finance. Wealthy groups, such as those representing industries or the professions such as the British Medical Association, as well as large trade unions like UNISON, can afford to mount major campaigns, undertake research and access the media to campaign.
• Good organisation can promote success. Organising major demonstrations is impressive and can influence both public and political opinion. Thus the Countryside Alliance put rural affairs on the political map in 2003 by putting 300,000 demonstrators on the streets of London. The use of the Internet and mobile phones mean pressure groups can organise demonstrations quickly and effectively – as the anti-fuel tax lobby has discovered.
How do some pressure groups achieve success? 2
• Good use of the media is a useful tool. Jamie Oliver created a one man campaign to improve schoolchildren’s eating habits and obtain more government money for school meals. Joanna Lumley and the Gurkha Justice Campaign is another often quoted example. Groups representing NHS patient categories have also used the media to highlight their cause. Fathers4Justice is possibly the best example of media manipulation.
• As shown above, the involvement of celebrities can bring success. Jamie Oliver again, Bob Geldof and Bono on world poverty, Sir Elton John or Sir Ian McKellen on Aids and gay rights issues are examples.
• Sometimes a group may be ideologically in tune with the party in government. Thus rights groups such as Liberty will prosper when the government has a liberal flavour. Business groups tend to be favoured by Conservatives and groups representing the poor and pensioners will generally have more influence over Labour.
Part C: To what extent do pressure groups enhance
• Pressure groups could be seen as a way in which power is dispersed rather than being concentrated in the hands of a small elite group of politicians or business leaders. Pressure groups allow a broad spectrum of society to participate in politics. Most do not wish to make a commitment to a party but are willing to become involved in single issues and campaigns. The wide dispersal of power can be seen as vital to a modern democratic system, i.e. fulfilling the pluralist ideal.
• Pressure groups are a vital part of ‘civil society’, that section of society that creates a ‘buffer’ between citizens and the state and ensures democratic controls over the power of government.
• Pressure groups act as crucial channels of communication between people and government. They express public opinion, transmit public demands and express public attitudes to issues.
• Many pressure groups represent minority groups in society. They play a key role in protecting their interests against other sections of society as well as against powerful government. This applies especially to such groups as patient groups in the NHS, smaller trade unions, small producers and minority religious or cultural groups. Liberty specialised in such campaigning.
• The decline in the importance and status of parties in recent times has made the representative role of pressure groups especially significant. Parties are less ideological and politics in general is more centred on issues. Pressure groups are better equipped to represent and make demands associated with single issues.
To what extent do pressure groups threaten democra
• Pressure groups are not accountable, unlike Parliament and governments. This means they may make political demands without having to make themselves responsible for the consequences of those demands. Accountability is a key element in any democracy.
• Many pressure groups may have political influence which is well beyond their significance in society. This may be the result of wealth (industry groups), strategic position in society (doctors, police) or the fact that they have a special relationship with the government of the day (farmers). In other words, pressure groups are thought to disperse power and reduce elitism, but they may have the opposite effect if they are small yet enjoy considerable influence.
• Related to the last factor, some wealthy groups may gain undemocratic influence by funding political parties. The relationship between Labour and trade unions can be seen in this way, as can large corporate donations to both major parties.
• Some pressure groups may not be internally democratic so their political demands may not represent accurately the views of their members. This is a charge sometimes made against groups representing professions.
• Groups which temporarily capture the public imagination, such as the anti-fuel tax lobby or the Countryside Alliance may create a climate for policy making which may not be democratically determined and may not be rational.
• Ultimately pressure group activity may have raised awareness amongst the public and possibly affected public policy at the margins, but “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent” (Schattschneider).
To what extent are pressure groups now more signif
• Pressure groups have much larger memberships than parties, with groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust and the Countryside Alliance having huge memberships and others having extensive numbers of supporters, such as Help the Aged. By contrast party membership has declined markedly.
• While activism in parties is also on the decline, many pressure groups are able to mobilise large numbers of people to demonstrate (Stop the Iraq war) or to take part in e-petitions (anti road pricing schemes) or to lobby MPs (Age Concern).
• Politics is arguably less ideological and more consensual. This means party conflict is less relevant while single issue politics has come to the fore. Pressure groups can concern themselves more effectively with single issues than parties.
• Governments today are more sensitive to public opinion than in the past. Pressure groups are better vehicles for public opinion on specific issues than parties can be.
• The media are now more politically active than ever. They reflect issue demands and therefore give pressure groups opportunities for influence. By contrast parties have become discredited.
To what extent are pressure groups now less signif
• British government remains essentially party government. This means that parties dominate the political agenda and organise the business of Parliament. Governments are formed from single parties and operate on a single party mandate.
• It can be argued that pressure groups simply frustrate each other’s demands. In other words most pressure groups have counter-balancing forces against them. Parties are able to aggregate policy and balance conflicting demands.
• Most pressure groups still represent minorities in society. Parties can be more concerned with the national interest. This applies, for example, over such issues as taxation, subsidies for sectors of the economy, rights of the community as a whole against those of minorities.
• Pressure groups suffer from lack of accountability. This reduces the legitimacy of their demands.
• As pressure groups do not stand for election they have no mandate and have no direct involvement in the governing process. There are also questions over the degree to which they are representative, whereas parties claim representation through election.
Why are some pressure groups so much more successf
• Insider status.
• Good use of the media.
• Involvement of celebrities.
• Ideological association with the government of the day.
Why are some pressure groups so much less successf
• Groups which fail to achieve insider status may be less successful. The classic example is trade unions which were very much insiders under Old Labour but lost insider status in the neo-liberal age of Thatcher and Major. This meant that trade unions lost much of their legal status and became less influential in developing policy concerning industrial relations, the economic and social security.
• Some groups fail to achieve public sympathy and support. Again trade unions are less popular than they used to be. It is also difficult for those representing the poor or immigrant groups to gain public or media sympathy.
• Groups may lose the support of the government of the day. This applied to unions, as shown above, but more recently also it has applied to the farming lobby (under the previous Labour government) and to the rights lobby which runs counter to the law and order and counter-terrorism policies of recent governments.
• Lack of funds is obviously a factor. This applies to small groups representing very small minorities such as sufferers from rare medical conditions or those who have localised concerns. Obviously small membership or support base is a related factor to poverty.