Pressure Groups

What are Pressure Groups?

  • group of like-minded invidivuals who come together on the basis of shared interests in order to put pressure on policy-makers at Westminster
  • More pressure groups than political parties beacuse pressure fragment opinion
  • In recent years, there has been an emergence of social movements and more focus on single issue groups which replaced the larger, more traditionals groups common in the 1950s and 60s
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What are single-issue groups?

  • a pressure group or protest movement that focuses on a single issue as oppose to a range of issues underpinned by a broader set of guiding principles
  • Often disband when their central objective is achieved
    • e.g. Snowdrop Campaign 
  • emergence of SIGs is defined as the emergence of a so-called new pressure group politics
    • rise of more loosely organised social movements, protest movement, direct action.
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What is the difference between pressure groups and


  • Tend to benefit from some kind of organisation
  • many have formal membership strutures and identifiable leaders
  • most have offices and an official sanctioned internet presence


  • Far looser in terms of organisational structure
  • generally bring together individuals who are also members of organised pressure groups
  • Generally senn as bringing political parties and pressure groups that operate in a given area of policy together
    • E.g. The Green Movement in the UK includes numerous pressure groups such as the Soil Association, Greenpeace as well as the Green Party
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Roles of Pressure Groups: Participation


  • Privide citizens with an avenue for participation between elections
  • although trustee model suggests MPs should be free to use judgement, democracy demands communication remains open between elections
  • Pressure groups play key role in this communication
  • By engaging citizens through structured participation, pressure groups serve to moderate the views of those who might otherwise adopt more extreme strategies
  • Can also serve as a route into a career in politics- secondary function
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Roles of Pressure Groups: Representation

  • enchance representation by aggregating and aritculating the common interests of a given group of individuals
  • Whereas parties are criticised as "catch-all", pressure groups are able to represent specific interests
  • E.g. Society for the Protection of Unborn Children serve to represent those who oppose abortion, whereas the 3 main parties are broadly sympathetic
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Roles of Pressure Groups: Education

  • they act as a source of specialist knowledge
  • help the government to weigh up the merits and demerits of proposed policies
  • this benefits the broader public by helping the government to avoid costly mistakes and uncesessary conflict
  • also serve to educate the broader public making it more likely that the government will be held to account
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Typologies: Sectional Groups

  • sometimes referred to as "protectionist groups" "private interest groups" or "interest groups"
  • those that aim to advance the shared interests of their members as opposed to campaigning for a broader cause
  • Normally exclusive; individuals must meet certain requirements in order to qualify for membership
  • E.g. British Medical Association must be qualified medical practioners or students entering into that profession
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Typologies: Cause Groups

  • "promotional groups" or "public interest groups"
  • seek to promote approaches, issues or ideas that are not of direct benefit to group members
  • Tend to be "inclusive"- generally try to establish a wider membership base and do not put in place as many barriers
  • E.g. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has become on the largest cause groups with over £1,000,000 in 2012

Attitude cause groups: a group that seeks to change people's attitudes on a particular issue e..g. Greenpeace

Political cause groups: campaigns in pursuit of a cause that is essentially political in nature e.g. Charter 88

Sectional cause groups: represents a specific secton of society that is distinct from its own membership e.g. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children seeks to represents the needs of children, but is not run by children

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Problems associated with classifying groups accord

  • more helpful to look at groups "status" than the nature of a group's aims when assessing it's chances of success
  • some groups do not fit neatly into any of the boxes
    • E.g. NASUWT clearly campaigns for the interests of its members, it would claim to raise awareness and promote reform in the field of education to benefit students
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Typologies: Insider Groups

  • regular contact with decision makers, such as govt. minsiters and the civil service
  • generally work behind the scenes rather than high profile publicity stunts

Core Insiders: groups that work closely with government and are consulted regularly across a range of policy areas e.g. BMA (although look at Jeremy Hunt)

Specialist insiders: groups with which the government consults across only a narrow range of policies e.g. WWF

Peripheral insiders: groups whose experitse or interest are so narrow that a govt. would only rarely consult them e.g. The Dog's Trust

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Why are some groups enjoy insider status?

  • They possess the expertise or specialist advice which governments need for policy making
  • Ministers need the cooperation of insider groups for policies to be implemented 
    • E.g. late 1980s and 1990s Thatcher and Major found their education reforms being undermined by teaching unions and NHS reforms by the BMA
  • Aims of the groups are considered (by ministers and civil servants) to be reasonable
    • discussion is easier because there is a large aount of common ground
    • couldn't sit down with the Hunt Saboteurs
  • Considered to be responsible in the way they seek to achieve the goal
    • usually use peaceful persuasion and dialogue
    • abaide by the political "rules of the game"
    • Outsider groups engage in high profile publicity stunts that are sometimes exterme e.g. Hunt Saboteurs
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Typologies: Outsider groups

  • Do not have regular contact with decision-makers- out of the "political loop"
  • often forced to engage in publicity stunts as a means of moving their cause up the agenda
  • often capaign on issues that provoke controversy

Potential insiders: Groups that might achieve insider status but are currently lacking in terms of support or experience

Outsiders by necessity: Groups that are forced to operate as outsider groups as a result of there being no realistic prospect of regular consultation with government --> perhaps due to core aims or methods e.g. Fathers4Justice

Ideological Outsiders: avoid establishing close working relationships with government for ideological reasons e.g. Amnesty International

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Why are some pressure groups "outsiders"?

  • The aims or demands of outsider groups are considered to be extreme or excessive
  • They may be supporting policies at variance with the government's own ideological standpoint
    • Labour in 1997 and 2001 supported nuclear arsenal --> Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament excluded
  • Methods used might be viewed as extreme or irresponsible
    • e.g. Hunt Saboteurs
    • e.g. Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs stole a body from a church yard 2004
  • Often do not possess the expertise or information which ministers and civil servants need to make policy
  • Difficult for outsider groups to present policy-makers with a clear set of proposals because there are a number of other campaigns on the same issue
    • e.g. POVERTY: National Union of Students, Child Poverty Action Group
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Issues with the insider-outsider typology

  • Groups can quickly move from "outside" to "inside" and vice versa
    • Charter 88 was an outsider group before 1997, but assumed more influence following Labour's victory
  • Wyn Grant argued it might be more appropriate to divide it into "high profile" and "low profile" and captive or prisoner groups

'Captive' or 'prisoner' groups: dependent on the government, either because they benefit from state funding or because the government played a part in their creation

  • e.g. Equality of Human Rights Commission was established under Equality Act 2010
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Traditional Methods

  • Letter writing campaigns, petitions, public demonstrations, conventional lobbying
    • e.g. Snowdrop Campaign received 750,000 signatures in 6 weeks
  • Lobbying: individuals or pressure groups write to a government minister or visit face to face
    • common to employ lobbying firms to use their contacts on their behalf
    • e.g. Ian Greer paid Neil Hamilton to table questions on his behalf
  • Influence legislative process directly
    • core insider groups
    • influence formation of policy at early stages through consultation with ministers, CS etc
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More Traditional Methods

Legal Action

  • where court find the govt. has acted beyond its authority e.g. Lewisham
  • Violates EU law or Human Rights Act
  • raise public awareness irrespective out outcome e.g. Pro-Life Alliance' challenge to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990

Working through a political party

  • easoest tp gaom foothold in parites when they are in opposition
  • Anti-fox hunting groups and those favouring constitutional reform established links with Labour between 1979 and 1997
  • Harder to develop when a part is in govt. - likely to be subject to far greater demands on its time and policy-making is more "top down"
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Direct Action

  • Political process that moves beyond tradtional pressure group methods
  • often involves a degree of civil disobedience
  • aim is to raise the profile of their chosen cause by attracting local or national media coverage
  • Gained in popularity as groups with conventional methods have failed to ahcieve their goal
  • most immediate away of articulating a view or achieving results
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Civil Disobedience

  • Act of refusing certain orders given by the state, without resoting to physical violence
  • closely associated with political leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr
  • Campaign against POLL TAX- thousands refused to pay and failed to attend court when issued with summons. Impossible for courts to process all the cases
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Civil Disobedience

  • Act of refusing certain orders given by the state, without resoting to physical violence
  • closely associated with political leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr
  • Campaign against POLL TAX- thousands refused to pay and failed to attend court when issued with summons. Impossible for courts to process all the cases
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Pressure groups or terrorist groups?

  • In some cases methods adopted cross the line between pressure groups and terrorist group
  • Animal Liberation Front have been banned both sides of the atlantic
  • Save the Newchurch Guinea Pigs exhumed body of relative of the farm.
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Manage the media

  • increasingly employing sophisticated media techniques
  • May use paid media, taking out whole-age adverts in national press
  • Direct mail or producing and airing TV adverts
  • Caring charities have made use of such tactics: NSPCC used TV in support of its Full-Stop Campaign
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Pressure groups and the European Union

  • increasingly beginning to lobby at EU level as opposed to focusing on British institutions
  • Likely when a national government is unsympathetic to their cause or their sectional interest is supranational

E.g. Environmental Groups

  • EU committed to environmental protection so more sympathetic to core aims
  • Many beaches deemed unfit for bathing due to sewage pollution have been improved through pressure from the EU

Growing power of the EU

  • European Communities Act 1972, EU Law takes precedence over British law when in conflict
  • Since 1986, decisions have been taken under a system of qualified majority rather than unanimity
  • Groups work to build a broader European support rather than lobby their own national govt. 
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The emergence of Eurogroups

  • Like-minded pressure groups from different EU member states often aggregate their efforts to establish a Eurogroup
  • Due to their size and coverage, they possess the resources and legitimacy needed to have their views heard
  • EU provides numerous access points
  • European Commission has appetite for information and recognises importance of Eurogroups as a legitimate source of information
  • e..g. National Farmer's Union has permanet office in Brussels and is member of the Eurogroup COPA-GOGECA
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Access Points

  • points within the political system at which pressure groups can exert pressure on those who hold political power
  • In unitary system, access points tend to be less numerous and meaningful
  • Those with a complete separation of powers have more access points that those who have a fusion of powers

Increase in access points available in Britain

  • establishment of the Scottish Parliament with legislative powers
  • Creation of assemblies and executives in Wales, NI and London
  • Creation of a more independed UK Supreme Court
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Access Points in the UK

  • local government
  • devolved governments and parliaments or assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • UK government
  • UK parliament (via MPs)
  • UK judiciary (via a legal challenge)
  • European Commission
  • European Parliament (via MEPs)
  • Council of the European Union
  • European Court of Justice (via a legal challenge)
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What is pressure group success?

  • varies from person to person
  • can be measured through the extent to which said pressure groups are able to gather support from both legislators and the public
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Success: Resources


  • Sizeable membership gives legitimacy and demonstrates a clear demand for change
  • Proficient leader- articulate views; present the group to be appealing
    • e.g. Matt O'Connor --> familiar with public relations; good at articulating; eventhough criticised for extreme methods


  • Money --> employ lobbying firms with the connections to make govt. aware of the issue; direct target
  • Other Assets --> printing equiptment or create websites; spread the message beond members
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Success: Achievability of Aims

  • Time-limited and focused are more likely to be succesful as it appears practical
    • e.g. Snowdrop Campaign aim more succesful than those ridding of poverty --> achievable goal which MPs could put into motion
    • Poverty is a clobal issue that cannot be solved through government
  • Local Presure Groups with limited goals more likely than those that require major changes in UK statute or European law
    • target local MPs and councils to bring about change
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Success: Receptivity

  • Aims in broad agreemnt with public mood are more successful than those diametrically opposed --> appetite for it
    • Howard League for Penal Reform (improve prisons) fair worse than those helping victims of crime such as Victim Support
  • How receptive is the government?
    • if govt. has also raised issue as a cause for concern, more likely to achieve insider status and be more successful
    • e.g. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament would not gain insider status with Conservative govt. 
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Success: Tactics

  • Traditional methods (generally) used by insider groups are more successful
    • considered more responsible
    • attract more support
    • e.g. Lobbying directly contacts the govt. through face-to-face meeting or through a firm
    • seen to be playing by the rules of the game rather than civil disobedience

ALTHOUGH publicity stunts can help to raise awareness, often these pressure groups face citicism

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