What Is a Pressure Group?

Essay by mf94College, UndergraduateA+, February 2010

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A pressure group can be described as an organised group that seeks to influence government (public) policy or protect or advance a particular cause- such as Friends of Earth's campaign for ways to stop climate change, or promoting a particular interest such as National Farmers Union who promote the interests of farmers across the UK. Groups may promote a specific issue and raise it up the political agenda or they may have more general political and ideological objectives in mind when they campaign. Often pressure groups find themselves competing with rival pressure groups with the aim of gaining an advantage over them, such as Pro-Test in oxford, who campaign for animal testing versus SPEAK who are against animal testing. Sometimes groups work together to achieve a common aim.

WHAT IS A SECTIONAL PRESSURE GROUP? AND EXAMPLESSectional pressure groups seek to represent the common interests of a particular section of society, for example those in the medical profession could benefit from being a member of the British Medical Association as the British Medical Association lobbies for the rights of medics across Britain.

As a result, members of sectional pressure groups are directly and personally concerned with the outcome of the campaign fought by the group because they usually stand to gain professionally and/or economically. Membership in such groups is often restricted to members of the represented social segment so if you wanted to be a member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), then you must actually be a teacher.

e.g. Confederation of British Industry, Trades Union CongressWHAT IS A CAUSAL PRESSURE GROUP? AND EXAMPLESCausal groups often promote a particular set of economic / politics objectives or ideas. Causal groups tend to have an open membership - seeking to gain a critical mass of popular support and campaigning strength. Some cause groups have few members but a great deal of influence. For example, Liberty - a group with 5,000 members - put pressure on the Labour Party, in opposition and in government, to make the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law a priority in 2005e.g. Charter 88, who campaign for a written constitution and entrenched Bill of Rights; Shelter, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and Greenpeace.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PRESSURE GROUPS AND POLITICAL PARTIES:Political Parties seek representation and power whereas pressure groups normally seek political influence. Parties often focus on the national interest whereas groups may be concerned with sectional issues / single issues for example; Fathers4Justice was concerned about custody rights of fathers, and not primarily focused on the economic issues of today. Many smaller parties fight elections but have no realistic hope of achieving full political power such as U.K.I.P, however pressure groups only need to influence parties in order to gain their power, it could be argued that many trade unions such as Confederation of British Industry have overwhelming influence over the Labour party and therefore could be more powerful than a political party.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INSIDER AND OUTSIDER PRESSURE GROUPS:INSIDEROUTSIDERInsider pressure groups have strong links with decision makers and are regularly consulted. Often have access to ministers and civil servants such as They cannot expect to be consulted during the policy-making process, nor can they expect to gain access to ministers and civil servantsInsider groups tend to be very powerful and long-term in terms of political influence.Outsider pressure groups tend to keep their independence from the government.

It is more common for sectional rather than promotional groups to be insiders, although this is by no means always the case. E.G. National Farmers Union.An extreme example of an outsider group is the IRA which seeks a united Ireland, but is considered an illegitimate organisation by the British Government. It is considered anti-constitutional because it uses terrorism to attempt to achieve its aims.

Tend to respect confidences and not to make public attacks on ministers.seek to convert and mobilise public opinion, often using demonstrations and rallies.

Insider status can change depending on who is in Government; Trade Unions are more likely to be consulted under Labour Government than under conservative.In the 1980s, CND was excluded from any consultation process with the government because its aim was unacceptable to the Conservative government of the time.

Outsider groups often attract more attention in the press and from citizens than Insider groupsMETHODS USED BY PRESSURE GROUPSLobbying the government, Publicity stunts, e.g. fathers 4 justice on Buckingham palace?SUCCESS OF PRESSURE GROUPS1. Their available funds and resources. If the pressure group has large funds they can spend more on promoting their cause.

2. Their organisational ability.

3. The level of public sympathy. The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) has over a million members (more than the members of Parliament), they can therefore use this as an advantage to promote their cause and gain public criticism if their ideals are not met by government.

4. Their access to politicians and people in powerful positions in industry.

5. Their reputation. The IRA is an extreme pressure group which has a poor reputation due to its indirect methods to achieve its aims through terrorism, this led the British parliament to consider it an illegitimate organisation, this makes its success less easy to achieve.

DO PRESSURE GROUPS ADD TO DEMOCRACY?•Yes, Political parties cannot provide adequate representation for the full range of diverse interests and opinions in a modern democracy because their key function is to aggregate interests into a coherent political entity capable of governing the country. Pressure groups enable particular interests and causes to be heard and to exert influence in public decision and decision-making.

•Yes, Pressure groups increase participation and access to the political system, thereby enhancing the quality of democracy.

•Yes, It makes government more efficient by enhancing the quality of the decision making process by causing more debates upon their particular interest.

•No, Pressure groups improve participation, but in an unequal way, benefiting the well organised but disadvantaging the weakly organised.

•No, Pressure groups themselves may not be representative of their members. Their officers are not usually elected. Few groups have procedures for consulting their members. As a result, the views expressed by group officials may not be shared by the group's members.

•No, Group opposition can slow down or block desirable changes, thereby contributing to social immobilisation.

•No, Large-scale demonstrations mounted by any group may lead to unpleasant clashes without the police, sometimes involving militants with their own agenda. This level of civil disobedience cannot be justified in today's democratic system.

BIBLIOGRAPHYR. Kimber and J.J. Richardson -- The re-emergence of ideological politics in Great Britain: the campaign for nuclear disarmamentBeer, S 'Pressure groups and parties in Britain', American Political Science Review, v50, no.1, 1956 pp1-23R.T. McKenzie -- British pressure groups: conclusionRichard Kimber and J.J. Richardson, Pressure groups in Britain : a reader