Power & Legitimacy

What is power?

  • The ability to make others do something or act in a particular way

What is authority?

  • The right to exercise power, make decisions and enforce obideience  

What are the three types of power?

  • Coercion – the use of force to achieve ends.
  • Political power – exercised by govt through persuasion and incentives.
  • Influence – The ability to affect decisions but not to enforce them.
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What are the three types of authority according to Weber?

  • Traditional – accepted as real authority if over a long period of time e.g. hereditary monarch, H of L, Pope.
  • Charismatic – Leaders so respected and persuasive that this is allowed e.g. Gandhi, Mussolini.
  • Legal/rational – also “elective” authority. Any organised system for establishing proper authority e.g. in democracy

What is legitimacy?

  • Whether power is being rightfully exercised and genuinely. This depends entirely on an individual’s political outlook.
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Which six principle examples constitute legitimate rule?

  • Tradition – a regime that has held power without serious popular challenge for a long period of time.
  • Control – “Might is right,” any ruler who can control the state, provide internal security and protect it from external attack has a right to govern.
  • Religion – Basis of authority is religious belief e.g. Islamic regimes in Iran/Libya/Saudi Arabia.
  • Legality – if there is a recognisable system of laws in a state and the government operates within those laws.
  • Morality – Judgements about the conduct of a regime must be made in order to assess legitimacy e.g. are human rights respected?
  • Consent – the people of a regime consent to being governed by the govt.
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Consent & Sovereignty

What is consent and what criteria show positive signs of consent?

  • Consent – permission to be governed.
  • Widespread participation in free elections. Even if government is unpopular for a period of time, this does not mean the system itself is opposed.
  • Clear and regular demonstrations of support e.g. Hitler’s third Reich
  • The lack of any significant opposition over a long period of time suggests the people are content e.g. China.
  • Traditional consent can be assumed with longstanding political systems.

What is sovereignty?

  • In general terms, “supreme power”. It is divided into two main types.
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  • Legal – The point where the ultimate ability to make laws resides e.g. Parlt. Other law enforcement agencies can only use laws that have been passed by Parlt. and been given Royal Assent by the Queen. *Devolved assemblies in Scotland & N. Ireland have not been given sovereignty – the power to make laws could be taken back by Westminster.
  • Political – Where power really lies. Parlt. is sovereign, but the Cabinet is considered the centre of power. *Some argue that sovereignty ultimately lies with the people.
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Referendums (How They Undermine Sovereignty)

To what extent do the use of referenda undermine parliamentary sovereignty?

  • YES - If referendum is mandatory its result binds Parlt. Therefore Parlt must go along with the result. This reminds us that sovereignty resides with the people.
  • YES - Referendums can act as a form of entrenchment – can make it difficult for future Parlts to overturn decisions made by referendums.
  • YES - When referendums are used in situation of Parliamentary stalemate it gives the impression that Parlt. is not functioning as it should be.
  • NO - Parlt. can control wording and timing of referendum which can effect the result.
  • NO - In the case of advisory referendums the result can simply be ignored.
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Consensus Politics

What is consensus politics?

  • Consensus politics is a system that involves agreement on a particular issue that gains support from those involved.
  • It is the opposite of adversarial politics, whereby politicians are more likely to oppose the views of the opposition. Many people consider Westminster to be a clear working example of adversarial politics.
  • Government by consensus can replace the majority rule won by a party at an election. If this happens, it can replace the role played by the opposition within a parliamentary structure.
  • Consensus can dominate decision-making as it can bind society together. The consensus of public opinion in the old Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution when nearly all were opposed to the old communist government, lead to the fall of that government and the creation of the post of president for a poet with little or no political experience - but this was the overwhelming desire of the people - a prime example of consensus politics.
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Political Participation

What is political participation?

  • Citizen involvement in politics with the aim of bringing about change or influencing those in power e.g. voting, demonstrations, direct action/publicity stunts, petitions, writing to MP.

Why is political participation important?

  • We live in a representative democracy where we have given up a role in decision making. Therefore it is important that our representatives know our views.
  • Raises political education of people e.g. referendums raise citizens’ knowledge of subject,
  • Another means of making govt accountable.
  • Minority views expressed.
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What is a referendum?

  • An issue which is referred to the people for popular vote.
  • Referendums can be advisory or mandatory.
  • A single issue vote

Give six examples of the most important recent referenda?

  • Devolution 1979 – Most Scots voted “yes” but 40% needed was not reached and it was unfavourable in Wales.
  • Devolution 199774% of Scottish voters said “yes” to devolution and 64% voted to allow new Scottish *Parlt to vary rate of income tax 3% up or down. Welsh referendum only 50.3% but this was enough. *Therefore, 1999 devolved govts took power.
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  • Irish Union referendum 197357% of electorate voted to remain in UK.
  • EEC referendum 197536% of electorate in Scotland voted to remain in EEC.
  • London referendum 1998 – Majority of Londoners voted in favour of London assembly.
  • Irish referendum 199871% of voters in N. Ireland and 94% of those in Eire supported Good Friday peace agreement.

In what circumstances are referenda thought to be required?

  • On Constitutional issues/changes – any change that alters the relationship between different parts of the state (e.g. devolution), or between citizens and the state.
  • When there is a history of conflict and an agreement is to be made.
  • If our representatives are unable to come to a decision about an issue.
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Advantages of Referendums

What are the advantages of referenda?

  • Are most direct form of democracy.
  • People may feel more obliged to agree with decisions if they have contributed to decision being made e.g. devolution.
  • If govt is divided over issue e.g. Euro, a referendum could avoid damaging splits.
  • Could encourage people to become more politically involved – with declining turnout this could be beneficial.
  • Could prevent “elective dictatorship.”
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Disadvantages of Referendums

What are the disadvantages of referenda?

  • Voters may make “wrong” decision if not well-informed on the issue.
  • Many may feel they do not understand therefore do not vote or feel it does not concern them e.g. fox-hunting.
  • Media-driven age now can sway peoples’ decisions – unfair? Especially as many newspapers back particular parties.
  • If turnout is low is result fair?
  • Govt can decide when to hold referendum and the wording of question.
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Referendums and Elections (Differences)

What is the difference between an election and a referendum?

  • In an election you vote for a party or candidate, whereas in a referendum you vote on an issue.
  • In an election your choice is based on a number of issues, but a referendum is just one issue.
  • An election is always mandatory. A referendum can be advisory or mandatory.
  • An election is deciding who holds power, a referendum is influencing those already in power.
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What is democracy?

  • Government of the people, by the people, for the people (Abraham Lincoln's definition)
  • A democratic political system is one in which the ultimate political authority is vested in the people.
  • The word democracy comes from the Greek words "demos" which means the people and "kratos" which means authority, or power

What are the two different forms of democracy?

  • Direct – exists where citizens are directly involved in decision making e.g. Ancient Greece, referenda.
  • Representative – representatives elected by people who take control of decision-making.
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Advantages & Disadvantages (Direct)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy?

  • Purest form of democracy rather than having someone interpreting your views.
  • May influence more people to get involved in politics.
  • Prevents cynicism about govt.
  • However, it is impractical.
  • Minorities would have no say.
  • Potential to leave decision-making in hands of those least equipped to do so.
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Advantages and Disadvantages (Representative)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of representative democracy?

  • More practical – physically possible.
  • Puts decision-making in the hands of people with sufficient time and knowledge – it is their job.
  • Representatives can be more rational e.g. emotive issue like cancelling of third world debt.
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Criticisms of Democracy

What are the main criticisms of democracy?

  • FPTP system is unfair and not proportional, over-rep. for winners and under-rep. for losers.
  • PM can stand for as long as they wish – we elect the party not the leader.
  • “Elective dictatorship” – Lord Hailsham
  • Parliamentary sovereignty – party with the majority can dominate and therefore pass whatever legislation they like.
  • Party system is so central therefore model of representation can be undermined. MPs may represent their party, not their constituents.
  • Not reflective of modern multi-cultural Britain – only about 100 women in 646 and under 1% ethnic minorities.
  • Low turnout at elections raises questions about the mandate of govt.
  • Nature of the second chamber – they are not accountable to us b/c not elected by us.
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What is Burke’s model of representation?

  • An ideal representative would be an independent individual who takes into account the mood and sentiments of his constituents, but then uses his own judgement in making decision.

What is social representation?

  • A representative body should be a microcosm of the community that it represents. Therefore, it would reflect the decisions that the whole community may make. e.g. The Jury system
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Political Parties

What is a political party?

  • Formal groupings that seek to bring together people with shared ideological perspectives. They will formulate basic policies based on those ideologies and during general elections they will present those policies in a manifesto to the general public. Their ultimate aim is to hold power. This is what distinguishes them from pressure groups.
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Political Parties

What is a safe seat and how is this relevant to FPTP?

  • A seat that has within the constituency it represents a high conc. of support for a particular party. This means that when it comes to general elections that party is always likely to win that seat. e.g. 2005 election seats seen as “safe” were not targeted as areas for high profile Cabinet ministers to visit.
  • Traditionally, Labour have always had more safe seats in northern England b/c of the Party’s industrial heritage. Conservatives always had much more support in SE & SW where there had been more affluence and are more rural communities. However, this is changing.
  • FPTP allows this strong regional support to be translated into seats b/c the particular party will win the majority of seats in that area.
  • So FPTP has regional bias. This is particularly bad for the Lib Dems, whose support is v. evenly spread across the country, and increasingly bad for the Conservatives too who face the same predicament.
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Functions of Political Parties

What are the functions of political parties?

  • They encourage political participation through party activity, campaigning at elections, voting and standing for office.
  • Parties present key political issues to the public. Different sides of arguments are presented.
  • Parties uphold the authority of Parlt and reinforce respect for institutions.
  • Parties administer elections, encouraging people to vote.
  • Parties recruit leaders and appropriate candidates for office.
  • Legitimate parties ensure that there is a peaceful transfer of power after elections.
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Old Labour

What is the difference between Old and New Labour?


  • Social equality to be made state responsibility, minority rights to be protected. Inequality is a product of capitalist system.
  • It is the state’s responsibility to close the gap between rich and poor. Therefore progressive taxation.
  • Nationalised industries would mean that, ideally, industry would never suffer at the hands of competition.
  • Believe welfare state is a good idea and should be of universal benefit.
  • Against EU b/c want state to be economically self-sufficient.
  • Constitutional reform – wanted to keep things as they were b/c of tradition and want for centralisation.
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New Labour

What is the difference between Old and New Labour?


  • Equality of opportunity but more of a belief of individualism in outcome. Adopted ideas associated with liberalism.
  • Accepted free market capitalism, therefore want privatisation b/c believe this will generate prosperity.
  • Aware of the idea that party with higher taxation loses elections. Therefore try to avoid income tax, but introduce “stealth” tax – indirect tax.
  • Still committed to Welfare State but benefits should be targeted to those who really need them. Want to break “culture of independence” (ironically a Thatcher saying)!
  • Key idea of modernisation so v. supportive of constitutional reform e.g. Lords Pro-Europe.
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What are the Conservatives’ key ideas?

  • “Rolling back the state” – individuals should not be held back by state and should make their own way.
  • Tendency to adopt conservative stance on moral issues e.g. sexual equality, b/c big supporters of traditional values like the family, church and monarchy.
  • Emphasis on the need for tradition and continuity. Sceptical of change e.g. const. reform.
  • Small but strong state on issues concerned with law and order.
  • Less welfare
  • Lower Taxes
  • Privatisation 
  • Competition 
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What is the ideology of the Liberal Democrats?

  • Belief in mixed economy b/c individuals must be free to pursue own interests.
  • Important to balance this with equality of opportunity – a chance to progress politically, economically, socially.
  • Strong emphasis on individual rights and freedoms, particularly moral and social issues.
  • Strong emphasis on political equality and fairness, therefore strongest supporters of constitutional reform.
  • Share Labour’s concerns about social justice.
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Policy area Party policy Labour Conservative Liberal Democrat WELFARE

  • A tax & welfare system that encourages all to find work & support themselves.
  • Tighter controls to prevent benefit fraud.
  • Help available for those who need it e.g. child care for single parents who wish to work and child benefit system.
  • Harder line taken on benefit fraud.
  • Regulations on benefits to be further tightened.
  • Welfare to be used purely as a safety net for those who have no alternative – but should always be minimal.
  • Support maintenance of the value of old age pensions.
  • Further steps to be taken to take people out of poverty trap.
  • Greater support for minority groups such as the disabled and single parents.
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  • General levels of taxation to be reduced, except at the top levels.
  • Therefore increased indirect taxation – “stealth” taxes.
  • Extensions of a 10% tax band at low-income levels.
  • Strong commitment to reducing levels of personal and business taxation.
  • Total burden of taxation in relation to nation to be reduced.
  • Oppose tax cuts if this reduces expenditure on public services such as health & education.
  • Would support higher taxes if these were necessary to maintain such services.
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  • Increased expenditure and long-term goals to reduce class sizes and drive up standards.
  • Want wider access to University – 50% target.
  • Introduction of top-up fees b/c do not want to increase taxation.
  • Firm commitment to performance targets in National Curriculum.
  • Abolish 50% target & top-up fees.
  • Promotion of private and selective schools – do not believe it is the role of the state to intervene in education.
  • Similar to Labour but Lib. Dems support higher spending on education.
  • Oppose top-up fees. Want progressive taxation.


  • Generally tough approach e.g burglars and homeowners rights – will not change law but toughen guidelines.
  • Attempts to speed up judicial process, including reduction in use of trial by jury.
  • Slightly harder line to Labour e.g. would give homeowners more rights to defend themselves.
  • Longer sentences and more custodial sentences.
  • Generally opposes hard line taken by two main parties.
  • Stresses policies to tackle the causes of crime rather than more punishment.
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  • Support for closer integration (b/c comfortable with free market capitalism), but we should still be able to go our own way.
  • Support EU Constitution.
  • Retain independent voice on foreign policy, but co-operate on some points.
  • Oppose single European currency.
  • Oppose further integration.
  • No support for common European defence and foreign policy.
  • However, no policy to leave the EU.
  • Most enthusiastic supporters of EU.
  • However, want EU to be more decentralised, strengthening European Parlt.
  • In favour of Euro & EU Constitution.


  • Most proposed reforms had been achieved by 2000.
  • Some support for strengthening local govt.
  • Completion of reform of HoL.
  • General opposition to any further reform b/c traditional views & sceptical of change.
  • However, no policy to reverse reforms made by Labour.
  • Support all reform made.
  • Wishes to go further – elected 2nd chamber.
  • Stronger Freedom of Information Act.
  • Greater independence for local govt.
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  • UK to maintain a leading role in world affairs.
  • Strong support for NATO, EU & the Commonwealth.
  • Willingness to intervene on international conflicts.
  • Ethical dimension to foreign policy e.g. Third World Debt & Gordon Brown debt reduction.
  • Supported war therefore leaned towards “special relationship”.
  • Similar to Labour, however no support for common European defence and foreign policy.
  • Strong support for NATO.
  • More emphasis than Labour on defence spending.
  • Support war, however critical of NL conduct.
  • Similar to Labour, however wish to see more “ethical” foreign policy.
  • Take a hard line against regimes that are undemocratic and abuse human rights.
  • Against War in Iraq b/c believe in abiding by international law. We should work through global institutions in a legal framework.
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Party System

What is a party system?

  • A particular pattern of competitive and cooperative interactions displayed by a given set of political parties.” – P. Webb The Modern British Party System

Describe the four different types of party system?

  • Single-party system (effectively a dictatorship) – One party puts up candidates for election, other parties banned, undemocratic & authoritarian. e.g. Nazi Germany or Communist Soviet Union.
  • Dominant-party system – Many parties may exist and fight elections, but only one party tends to win power. e.g. Britain under Conservatives for 18 years.
  • Two-party system – Two parties compete for power on an equal or near equal basis. Other parties win few seats and exercise little power. e.g. Britain 1945-79, USA. Multi-party. More than two parties compete.
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Advanatges of Two Party System

What are the advantages of the two-party system?

  • Provides voters with clear choice between rivals e.g. Old Labour & Conservatives.
  • Provides strong and stable govt b/c party in control normally has clear majority and therefore able to implement policies in manifesto.
  • If the govt fails or loses its way, there is always a govt in waiting, especially with the Shadow Cabinet.
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Disadvantages of Two Party System

What are the disadvantages of the two-party system?

  • Adversarial politics may not be constructive or desirable. It can result in unnecessary and harmful exaggeration of the differences between the parties.
  • Encourages polarisation (taking the opposite stance) rather than consensus.
  • Parties not really representative as mostly below 50% of support therefore questionable mandate.
  •  Inefficient b/c huge swings in govt policy if party changes.
  • Undermines importance of HoC, as debates rarely change anything.
  • Forced out to opposite sides of the spectrum and take most extreme views.
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FPTP and Two Party Systems

How has the FPTP system upheld two-party politics?

  • Winner takes all idea – even if a stronger third party did emerge, they would be badly under-represented by FPTP.
  • Regional support traditionally for Conservatives & Labour upheld by FPTP. Whereas Lib. Dems do not have regional bias.
  • It is not just electoral system that effects party system. e.g. social system – clear class system in 40s, 50s, 60slarge working class linked to Labour & MC link to Conservative.
  • Also, traditionally two opposing ideologies but now ideological flux. Therefore the right of the spectrum is much more fragmented – more opportunity for other smaller right of centre parties.
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Pressure Groups

What are pressure groups?

  • An organisation which seeks to influence the details of a comparatively small range of public policies and which is not a faction of a recognised party.” – Robert Baggottt
  • They are organisations, which suggests that they have a formal structure of some kind.
  • They seek to influence – they have fairly precise goals.
  • Their goals are relatively narrow – they do not concern themselves with the full range of public policy.
  • They are not political parties or factions of parties.
  • They operate on any public decision-making body, whichever is appropriate.
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Political Parties and Pressure Groups

What are the similarities and differences between political parties and pressure groups?

Similarities Differences Both have main aim of public support. Pressure groups do not seek to gain power, whereas political parties do. Share methods e.g. use of media Pressure groups concentrate on one issue or a narrow range of issues compared to political parties, which have a broad range of political issues to discuss. Both develop policy. Political parties have the responsibility of holding office, whereas pressure groups do not. Can both put up candidates for election. Political parties put up candidates for elections – some pressure groups do too, but for different reasons. Both have some degree of formal organisation. Political parties have a clearly defined legal status and are held accountable.

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Types of Groups

What are interest/sectional groups?

  • A specific part of the population is represented.
  • Within its role is to further the interests of a particular section of the population.
  • In some cases, membership may be restricted to those whose interests the group is representing e.g. trade unions.
  • In others, cause groups, membership is open to all who are concerned e.g. Child Poverty Action Group and Age Concern.
  • Other examples – Confederate of British Industry (CBI), AA, Countryside Alliance, National Farmers Union.
  • Also, Amnesty International, however this group campaigns on an international basis.
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Types of Groups

What are promotional/issue groups?

  • These organisations may appeal to all sections of the community, but are concerned with a particular issue or group of related issues.
  • Including within these are permanent and temporary groups.
  • Examples of permanent issue groups include Friends of the Earth, Transport 2000, Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association.
  • Examples of temporary issue groups include CND, Electoral Reform Society and Animal Liberation front (ALF).
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Types of Groups

What are insider pressure groups?

  • Insider groups have close relationships with the govt and are considered to be legitimate by the govt.
  • Internal/core/specialist insiders – v. close relationship with govt, automatically consulted as a matter of course.
  • External/peripheral insiders – can be regularly consulted, however this depends on the ideological complexion of the govt e.g. Trade Unions more likely to be consulted under left of centre govt. Status can be dependent on the prominence a particular issue has at the time.
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Types of Groups

What are outsider pressure groups?

  • Cannot expect to be considered by govt and are not considered to be legitimate.
  • Potential insiders who are aiming for insider status could achieve this status depending on the nature of the issue, the govt’s ideological complexion and the nature of the pressure group itself (in relation to finance, organisation, whether it is newly-formed/long-established).
  • Groups not aiming for insider status – often believe that the govt is wrong/corrupt e.g. anarchists, anti-globalisation protesters. These groups may be so extreme that it places them outside e.g. IRA, Combat 18, extreme animal rights groups.
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Methods of Pressure Groups

What methods do pressure groups use?

  • MOBILISING PUBLIC SUPPORT - high profile campaigning, the organisation of public demonstrations, publicity stunts e.g. Countryside Alliance’s mass campaigns in support of fox-hunting, Fathers For Justice.
  • INCORPORATION OR “INSIDER” STATUS - they can therefore expect to exert considerable influence, but with responsibilities. e.g. National Farmers’ Union, Friends of the Earth, National Trust, Confederation of *British Industry. Or pressure groups become government-sponsored bodies themselves, and therefore are represented directly. E.g. Equal Opportunities Commission, Commission for Racial Equality.
  • FIGHTING ELECTIONS - new phenomenon of putting pressure group candidates up for election seen during 1997 general election - Referendum Party.
  • PARLIAMENTARY ACTION - many Labour MPs are “sponsored” by trade unions, in return for fighting for that trade union’s cause. Pressure on MPs/support of MPs to pass a PMB. Successful examples include law relating to homosexuality (led by Edwina Currie) and to abortion (David Alton) in 1990s. MEDIA CAMPAIGNS - via media.
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Pressure Groups - Succeed or Fail?

Why do pressure groups succeed or fail?

  • SIZE - govt is more likely to respond to a larger pressure group, simply b/c there are more potential votes to be won or lost. However, during 1980s - trade unions (total membership 8 million) and pensioners (about *25% of the population) did not appear to enjoy any political advantage.
  • GOVERNMENT SUPPORT - depends on which party is in govt at any particular time. Govt more likely to be influenced by large numbers of its own potential supporters e.g. not unsurprising that Conservative administrations of 1980s and 90s were unsympathetic to trade unions.
  • FINANCE - This can be controversial when concerning large companies producing tobacco, alcohol, gas and electricity etc. Funds can be used to finance political parties and therefore receive sympathetic treatment. Also, pressure groups are able to mount expensive campaigns in support of their campaigns.
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Pressure Groups - Succeed or Fail?

  • ORGANISATION - a well-organised pressure group will have a considerable advantage due to having a network for the recruitment of members, research facilities and staff, a strong management structure to give policy direction, established methods for creating publicity.
  • STRATEGIC POSITION - certain sectional groups enjoy special status due to govt’s or the community’s reliance on them. e.g. police, medical and emergency service personnel, trade unions.

Key strategic groups that may use their position to exert influence include:

  • PUBLIC OPINION - A combination of an effective campaign together with a sympathetic public is a potent combination. Recent examples of important policy changes & developments based on these circumstances include equal pay for women, controls over experimentation on animals, reducing the age of consent for homosexuals, relaxation of alcohol licensing laws.
  • STRENGTH OF OPPOSITION - often two or more pressure groups must go against each other. e.g. the anti-smoking lobby v. the tobacco industry, the League Against Cruel Sports v. the Countryside Alliance.
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Pressure Groups and Democracy

What are the arguments to suggest that pressure groups are good for democracy?

  • Act as an effective channel of communication between governed and govt, articulating demands and mobilising support for them.
  • Provide wide opportunities for people to participate in political process without having to devote excessive amounts of time.
  • Ensure minority groups and interests are represented within political system. e.g. NSPCC b/c children cannot vote
  • Act as an important check on the power of the state by mobilising opposition to measures against sections of community.
  • Help to ensure stability by institutionalising peaceful political conflict, so preventing possible disorder and violence.
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Pressure Groups and Democracy

What are the arguments to suggest that pressure groups are a threat to democracy?

  • Only concerned with their own welfare and ignore the broader good of the whole community and the country. e.g. TUs on strike, public transport, fuel strike 2001
  • Some groups may wield disproportionate amounts of influence b/c of finance and links with political parties. e.g. TUs give money to Labour
  • Might not be internally democratic – might become merely reflections of elitism rather than true pluralism.
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