Pressure Groups

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Define Pressure Groups

  • Organisation whose members have some shared interests or objectives
  • It seeks to influence  government policy but not governmental power 
  • Can be formalised, well-structured bodies that have constitutions and rules 
  • Can be seen in terms of movements or lobbies that might comprise of a number of organisations or companies 
  • Narrow issue focus as opposed to a range of issues underpinned by a roader ideology as is the case for politcal parties 
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Differences between political parties and pressure

Politcal Parties 

  • Tend to offer a broad portfolio of policies, underpinned by a guiding ideology 
  • Main UK parties have open membership structures and therefore inclusive 
  • Contest elections with a view of securing control of governmental power 
  • Main UK parties - highly organised and offer members an input into key decisions through formalised rules and procedures 

Pressure Groups 

  • Generally pursue a narrower cause or sectional interest 
  • Many pressure groups - particulalry sectional groups - more exclusive in their membership
  • Those pressure groups that field candidates in general elections generally do so simply as a means of raising their own profile
  • OR encouraging candidates representing mainstream parties to adjust their policies for fear of losing votes
  • Even larger, more established pressure groups - often dominated by a small leading clique - few display high levels of internal democracy 
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Functions of Pressure Groups

  • Sectional Groups seek to protect and safeguard the interests of their members e.g. Trade Unions (NUT)
  • Offer a means of representation e.g. Age UK (elderly people)
  • Inform and Educate e.g. RSPCA provide lesson plans for primary school children and WWF (publish reports e.g. The Living Planet Report) - making it more likely the government will be held to account
  • Act as a source of specialist knowledge for the government regarding policy - helps government avoid costly mistakes and unnecessary conflict  e.g. NSPCC (child welfare) and NFU (over the foot and mouth crisis)
  • Mechanism for political expression and participation e.g. Tuition fees in March (NUS) - Provide citizens with an avenue for participation between elections 
  • Can also serve as a route into a career in politics, thereby serving a secondary function in the area of political recruitment 
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Features of Sectional and Promotional Groups


  • Represents a section of society 
  • Tend to be more exclusive in terms of their membership e.g. requiring members to be serving in a particular profession 
  • e.g. National Union of Students represents students 


  • A group that promotes a cause
  • Campign on policies that they believe will benefit others or the interests of society as a whole 
  • Generally seeking a wider membership i.e. inclusive 
  • e.g. Amnesty International - promotes human rights 
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Criticisms of Sectional and Promotional Distinctio

Criticisms of Distinction 

  • More helpful to look at the group's status than the nature of the group's aims when assessing its chances of success
  • Some groups don't fit neatly into either e.g. teaching union NASUWT clearly campaigns for the sectional interests of its members (a sectional group), however it would also claim to raise awareness and promote reform in the field of primary and secondary education (a promotional group) with a view to bringing immediate benefits to school pupils (a sectional cause group)
  • E.g. Campaign for Real Ale 
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Insider Groups

  • Shared interests of the poltical establishment or the party in government 
  • Have regular contact with decision makers 
  • Generally work behind the scenes rather tahn engaging in high-profile publicity stunts that could embarrass the overnment and threaten the group's priviledged status
  • Go with the grain of public opinion - end up insider groups by default e.g. RSPCA 
  • 1979 - 1997 - Institute of Directors 
  • Labour and Confederation of British Industry
  • NSPCC has statutory powers to handle issues concerning child protection  
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Types of Insider Groups

Core Insider 

  • Group that works closely with the government and are consulted regularly across a broad range of polciy areas 
  • E.g. NSPCC
  • E.g. BMA - Advise the coaltion on NHS reform (arguably seen as elitist) 
  • E.g. National Union of Farmers - consulted by both British and EU government on agricultural policy

Specialist Insider 

  • Group with which the government consults across only a narrow range of policy
  • E.g. RSPCA (animal welfare)
  • E.g. ASH (Involved in drafting legislation on the smoking ban and not being allowed to smoke in cars with children (currently being developed))

Peripheral Insider 

  • Group whose areas of expertise or interest are so narrow that government would only rarely consult them 
  • E.g. The Dog's Trust - involved in legislation around The Dangerous Dog Act 

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Outsider Groups

  • Not usually consulted on policy issues 
  • Do not have regular contact with decision makers 
  • Are often forced to engage in publc stunts as a means of moving their cause or interest up the political agenda 
  • Irresponsible behaviour e.g. Greenpeace 
  • Rely on public opinion
  • Often campaign on issues that provoke controversy 
  • E.g. 1980s Trade Unions 
  • E.g. Animal Liberation Front
  • DEFY-ID opposed to the introduction of ID cards 
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Types of Outsider Groups

Potential Insider 

  • Groups that might ultimately achieve insider status but are currently lacking in terms of support and/or experience 
  • Governments may be reluctant to give insider status because they regard them as lacking legitimacy. 

Outsider by necessity 

  • Forced to operate as outsider groups as a result of there being no realistic prospect of regular consultation with government - whether because of the group's core aims or its chosen methods
  • E.g. Greenpeace (obstructs whaling ships)
  • E.g. Animal Liberation Front (controversial direct action e.g. throwing paint at people wearing fur coats)
  • E.g. Fathers4Justice 
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Types of Outsider Groups

Ideological Outsider

  • Groups that look to avoid establishing close working relationships with the government for ideological reasons 
  • E.g. Taxpayers Alliance
  • E.g. Amnesty International - needs to preserve its reputation for impartiality - avoid becoming too closely associated with any national government 
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Criticisms of Insider and Outsider Distinctions

  • May be more useful in terms of assessing the likelihood of a group achieving its central aims as opposed to categorising pressure groups by aims

However, such labels ignore the fact that:

  • Some groups can operate as insiders and outsiders to a degree
  • Groups can also move surprisingly quickly from outside to inside and vice versa 
  • E.g. Poltical cause group Charter 88 (advocated constitutional and electoral reform) was clearly outside of the political loop before 1997 general election but assumed more influence following Labour's victory in that year 
  • E.g. NUF's long-held core insider status came under threat as a result of growing EU control over agricultural policy and a period of 13 years when Conservative Party was out of office 
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Wyn Grant's Argument

It might be more appropriate to divide insider groups into 'high-profile', 'low-profile' and 'captive or prisone' groups 

High-profile Groups - Court media as well as working with government behind the scenes e.g. BMA and NUF

Low-profile Groups - Focus largely on establishing relationships behind the scenes e.g. The Howard League for Penal Reform (less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison)

'Captive' or 'Prisoner' Groups - Groups that are dependent on the government - either because they benefit from state funding or because the government played a part in their creation e.g. Human Rights Commission - established under The Equality Act 2006 

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