Pressure groups are organized bodies that aim to put pressure on decision-makers, such as government ministers, Members of Parliaments, representatives in the European Union and local governments.
This pressure may take the form of mobilizing public opinion and/or lobbying behind the scenes in order to encourage policymakers either to make no change to existing policies and practices, or more likely, to insist on reform and even radical innovation.
Pressure groups seek to influence rather than to get elected.
Types of Pressure Group
1. Interest/Sectional pressure groups aim to protect the interests of their members or a section of society.
- Trade unions representing workers
- Employer and trade associations, such as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Institute of Directiors
- Professional associations, such as the British Medical Association and the Law Society
- Organizations such as the National Trust and Automobile Association
All of these protect the interests of particular social groups.
2. Promotional pressure groups focus on specific issues or or causes that members feel strongly about.
- Greenpeace & Friends of the Earth which aim to protect the environment
- Oxfam which aims to promote greater understanding and sensitivity towards issues such as poverty and debt in developing countries
- Gingerbread, which seeks to alleviate the problems and pverty of single-parent families
- Ad hoc or 'fire brigade groups' - formed to deal with specific new proposals, such as the building of a motorway. These are often disbanded when their aims and objectives are achieved
- 'Idea' or think-tank groups - aiming to provide an ideological rationale or to carry out research for the aims and objectives of specific cases or issues.
- Political cause groups - seeking to change the organization of the political system, for example, Charter 88 aimed to change the nature of democracy in the UK. It can be argued that the Human Rights Act in 2001 was a direct consequence of their campaign.
- 'Latent' groups - those which have not yet fully evolved in terms of organization, representation, and influence. There are some social groups, such as the poor and minority ethnic groups, who experience a 'poverty of politics or protest' in that they have no formal organizations to speak out on their behalf. However, their representatives may be consulted by the government or the media, especially when moral panics develop, and around 'problems' perceived to be associated with such groups.
Morgan's typology is by no means comprehensive or watertight.
In recent years, we have seen the evolution of the 'celebrity' pressure group, with rock stars such as Sir Bob Geldof, Sting, and Bono, using their celebrity status to raise the public profile of issues such as famine, the degradation of the Amazonian jungle and debt in the developing world, in order to influence governments to change or modify their policies.
Insider Pressure Groups
Pressure groups with insider status are often invited to send representatives to sit on official committees and to collaborate on government policy papers. Civil servants and ministers regularly consult with them. Such groups tend to use 'political brokers' or professional lobbyistswho have inside knowledge of how the political process who have inside knowledge of how the political process works and /or have official and non-official access to influential politicians and public servants. Such groups prefer to keep a low profile.
Duverger (1972) - some of these pressure groups, especially those representing the interests of capital, have 'unofficial power' - 'they actually have their own representatives in governments and legislative bodies, but the relationship between these individuals, and the groups they represent remains secret and curcumspect.
Outsider pressure groups
Outsider groups, on the other hands, do not enjoy direct access to the corridors of power. Such groups attempts to put government under pressure by presenting their case to the mass media and generating public opinion in their favour.
Their campaigns are likely to involve demonstrations, boycotts, and media campaigns, writing to those with influence and occasionally giving evidence to government committees. Some pressure groups have gone further than this and either disobayed the law or challenges the law through the courts.
This refers to the process of trying to influence MPs with regard to their stance on particular issues. Pressure groups and trade unions approach MPs who they believe would be sympathetic to their cause and keep them up to date on these issues so that their interests would be represented in parliamentary debates.
However in recent years, this type of lobbying has been superceded by the rise in professional lobbying companies, which are often set up by ex-politicians or civil servants who offer to influence policy by selling the contacts they have made during their careers. Such companies have employed MPs as advisers.
There are signs too that lobbying has increased both voter apathy and disilusion with indirect political action as allegations of MP sleaze emerged in the 1990s when MPs were accused of taking money from both lobbying organisations and wealthy individuals in return for asking questions in parliament on behald of clients.
In 2010, three prominent Labour ex-ministers were forces to stand down as MPs when they were caught on camera offering their political influence for money.