What is a pressure group?
It is an organisation those members have shared interests or objectives and they seek to influence the government. They can be formalised, well organised bodies which have constitutions and rules or they can be seen in terms of movements or lobbies that can use a number of organisation.
Promotional groups They seek to highlight just one particular issue or cause. Their members are often driven by firm belief in justice of an issue and seek to influence government policy on it. An example of a group is transport 2000, they believe in the pursuit of more sustainable transport policy. For any issue or government policy there is usually a promotional group.
Sectional groups they usually have members which share a common interest, eg they work in same profession. Trade unions are the most well known type of this group. The national union of teachers is a sectional group because it promotes interests of its members. For any group with common interest there will be a pressure group for those interests.
Insider and outsider groups
Some groups whether promotional or sectional have a status that gives them access to higher reaches of the political system. They may happen to share many of the interests of the party in government. E.G during conservatives party years in office from 79 to 97 the institute of directors proved to be an influential organisation while tony blairs labour government had a close relationship with figures in the confederation of British industry. The NSPCC is a good example of an insider group as they have statutory power to handle issues concerning child protection.
They are not usually consulted on policy because their aims are not in line with the political order of the time, groups against the government. The nature of some pressure groups make them outsiders, some groups use extreme measures such as the animal liberation movement, they use terrorist like activities. Governments normally recoil from groups that are involved in violent acts. These groups have to depend on persuading public opinion in order to influence policy matters indirectly. Some don’t use violence but there activities can be seen as irresponsible by government and this makes them outsiders. e.g Greenpeace using stunts to promote its campaigns. These stunts go wrong and gain lots of media attention whether they go wrong or not. One which went wrong was when the group was forced to apologise after its occupation of the Brent spa oil platform was based on false accusations against shell.
Problems classifying promo and sect and change in
Some groups are not easy to categorise because they can be promotional or sectional. An example of this is the housing charity shelter. This can be either sectional because they want to improve lives of homeless people and raise awareness or promotional because it is motivated by a cause.
Status of the groups may change, as the example of trade unions clearly shows. During the 70’s they had a high level of access to the governing labour administration. Opinion polls at the time showed that many believed that the inions had more power than the government itself. This contrasts strongly with the situation in the 1980’s when the unions were frozen out by the government. Even with a labour government back in power in the 90s the unions did not regain the levels of insider status they once had.
Success of a pressure group
Status The status of the group is an important factor, some people argue that the closeness existing between some pressure groups and the political establishment gives them an advantage and therefore are more likely to be successful. But some say insider status is too costly, as the group must conduct itself in a way which doesn’t embarrass politicians and this gives rise to questions over independence of these groups
Public opinion Important factor is the degree which pressure groups are in line with public opinion. Groups such as the NSPCC and RSPCA, stand for causes and interests that anyone would applaud publicly and consequently they find it easier to gain the support of the public, media attention and the fear of ministers.
Media The media are vital to pressure groups. Most groups employ paid press officers and the bigger groups invest heavily in ensuring that their marketing and media relations support their aims and activities effectively.
Success of pressure group ***
Size of the pressure group can be an important factor in its success. Governments are more likely to listen if a group has a million members especially if it has support of the public and the media. Timing is very important for this, a well supported pressure group agitating against the run up to an election could be hard for competing political parties to resist.
Finance key factor when determining pressure group success. It can be argued that richer groups can afford to employ more workers and undertake more advertising and marketing to raise public opinion. At the time of the 1975 referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EEC, the yes campaign was a much better financed operation and this showed in the quality of publicity achieved
Organisation -Often it is the best organised groups which take advantage of the issue gaining prominence in media achieving success. There is little doubt that in the wake of the massacre of school kids in Dunblane in 96 the snowdrop appeal group mobilised itself effectively to take advantage of the anti gun sentiment going through the UK after. The group was able to use the pressure of the election to get their cause heard.
Key differences between pressure groups and politi
Policies - Pressure groups usually concentrate on one policy area or narrow amount of issues. Eg greenpeace tends to focus their attention on the environment and issues affecting it. The CND devotes itself to issues concerning nuclear weapons but has broadened its campaign to confines of defence policy. By contrast, political parties offer opinions and viewpoints on a variety of issues, since voters want to know what will happen in a number of policy areas should be elected.
Aims - This can be done either directly or indirectly. Examine the pressure group activities discussed earlier in this section and consider how they relate power sin order to achieve to complete their policies and in the aim of power it.
Accountability - By seeking power political parties become accountable because they will have to answer for the actions of those who they are governing. Pressure groups are not accountable in the same way and a number of pressure groups are not accountable in anyway their leaders are not called to account for the actions of their groups. As a result it can be argued that pressure groups are less democratic than political parties.
Despite the distinctions sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between pressure groups and political parties. This has been exacerbated in recent years as some parties have emerged from pressure groups eg the green party. Other political parties have been created with just one issue eg UKIP.
The distinction about aims and objectives are also becoming blurred some groups put forward candidates at election time to influence other parties rather than gain power for themselves. The best example of this was the referendum party whos main aim was to call for a referendum from the conservative party on the issue of Europe. It can be argued that decision making players in the political system. These groups are involved with political parties which also complicates the distinction with groups and parties.
How pressure groups help democracy
They are an added form of participation
They are a measure of public opinion
They are an added form of representation
They provide expertise and advice
How pressure groups hinder democracy
They are unaccountable
Links with political parties