Democracy can be defined as the political orientation of those who favour government by the people, or by their elected representatives (Whawell, 1998 p. 178). Democracy derives from the Greek word ‘demos’ meaning people, in essence a democratic society is a fair society. A Pressure group or interest groups fundamental aim is to influence decision makers in the Government domain, which can be formulated by central government, local government, the European Union, and in some cases by quasi government (Grant, 1995 p. ).
Pressure groups do not attempt to gain political power, which differs from a political party, in respect that pressure groups inform, influence, and exert pressure on those creating public policy. Coxall (2001 p. 3) has suggested the following definition of a pressure group: ‘A pressure group is any organisation that aims to influence public policy, by seeking to persuade decision makers, by lobbying rather than by standing for election and holding office’.
In essence, pressure groups do not wish to become actively involved with the government; they tend to concentrate on one particular aspect, as apposed to the government who are involved with many strategies. The fundamental purposes of pressure groups are to influence decisions making on exigent issues. For the purpose of this assignment, the author will discuss further, whether the issues of pressure group politics damage or enhance democracy. There are different forms of pressure groups, these being sectional or interest groups, cause or promotional groups, and insider/outsider groups.
A sectional or interest group by definition tends to be motivated by their particular economic interests of their members, for example, The Trade Union Congress, (TUC) professional bodies such as The British Medical Association, (BMA) and specific employer’s organisations such as lawyers and medics fall within this category. A cause or promotional group can be defined (Grant, 1995 p. 3) as an idea, which is not directly related to the personal interests of its members, an example of this would be, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, (CND), Green Peace, or the Child Poverty Action Group, (CPAG).
An insider/outsider topology was developed by Grant in 1995, (1995, p 15) which can be defined as categorising groups according to the tactics that they employ, and their relationship with the government. Thus, government and the civil service regard insider groups as justifiable partnerships, and when it comes to formulating and executing policy in particular areas, the insiders are deemed as the specialist in their area of interest, for example, The Charted Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).
Insider groups are perceived by the government as providing reliable and precise information, using the same verbal communication and ideologies, and perhaps more importantly, retaining the confidence of the government, being ideally placed in a position to compromise. In contrast, an outsider group tends not to be recognised and accepted by the government, arguably that they do not wish to ‘pay homage’ or the political game, and bow down to the demands of the institution (Jones, 1991 p. 251).
In quintessence, they are protest groups, which have specific objectives, which are external to the mainstream political opinion. For example, the government perhaps would not approach the animal activist group for advice about animal rights; however, may seek the professional knowledge and expertise from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Pressure groups can also be influential within government, depending on current societal issues, the government has the opportunity to be selective about which pressure groups they utilise, and not all groups have equal access.
A poignant example of this would be the National Farmers Union (NFU), in the 1980’s as an interest group they were an insider group. However, since the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the government have changed their tactics, deeming the NFU’s information as unreliable and not accredited, and now utilise the Royal Veterinary Society (RVS) for their expertise and knowledge instead. Membership of pressure group parties has increased significantly over the last twenty years in comparison to the public who attend voting at general elections.
This may be due to a variety of influencing factors, such as a higher disposable income, the advent of the internet, and there are now more bureaucrats. Kavanagh et al (2006 p. 418) suggests that ‘In Britain today, more than half the adult population are members of at least one organisation, and many belong to a number of groups. ‘ For Example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, (RSPB) has more members in total than all of the British political parties amalgamated, (Grant, 1995 p. 7) It could be argued (Grant, 1995 p. 17) that this does not enhance democracy. Pressure groups provide government with expertise and advice to facilitate policymaking, which ultimately result in enhancing the quality of government; they explore further avenues of participation, and actively contribute to the surveillance of government on behalf of its members, and look to expose information. Many of the pressure groups, whom assist the government, are experts in their own areas of competency such as medicine or farming.
With the increased prevalence of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids) was promulgated in the 1980’s, the Terrance Higgins Foundation (THF) was consulted for their technical expertise and practical advice. Budge et al (2006 p. 446) has suggested that consultation with relevant groups makes for rational decisions, and quotes, ‘Governments obviously have a democratic duty to consult and may depend on organised groups for policy information and implementation. Thus promoting political stability by providing a channel of communication between the government and the people, Budge, et al (2006 p 446) also suggested that by joining a pressure group, the populace fundamentally believe that they are actively being involved with politics. Pressure groups can also provide an essential freedom for the populace, especially minority groups, they are able to organise with concurring individuals so that their views can be articulated, and taken into consideration by the government.
For example, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC) provides comprehensive information on its role in advising the Government on the transport needs of a disabled person. The DPTAC are currently lobbying for changes for people who are discriminated against, with disabilities, on aeroplanes, (December, 2007) this facilitates the needs of people who autonomously would not be able to make a difference, in essence, assisted by a pressure group, they have a voice.
Within the last decade, The People’s Fuel Lobby (farmers and the road hauliers) launched a campaign against fuel tax, blocking oil refineries, which caused widespread national disruption. The government were left with no option other than to reduce the price of fuel, in order for public confidence to be resumed and services to recommence. This type of pressure group campaign displayed a positive effect, as far as the protesting party were concerned, however, it was incredibly embarrassing for the government, who ultimately ‘succumbed’ to this form of blackmail.
It was suggested by Grant, (1995, p. 13) that this bullying tactic can have detrimental effects and eventually recoil. For example, The Fathers for Justice Campaign (Guardian, Chezneck, 2006), allegedly plotted to kidnap Tony Blair’s son, which led to an announcement in 2006 that the group was dissolving, this may indicate that the pressure group had in fact gone too far on this occasion.
A negative impact of pressure groups can be of overcrowding the political arena and overloading the government with information therefore, preventing them from addressing important issues. Large scale demonstrations mounted by any group may lead to clashes with the police and the government, an example of this is the poll tax demonstrations which took place in 1990 (Jones, 1991, p. 259), where scenes of violence were frowned upon by the public.
During the 1970’s the Trade Unions had a substantial amount of influence and power within the government, until Margaret Thatcher came into power in 1979. It was suggested by Kavanagh et al (2006, p 418) ‘Thatcherite conservatives were often suspicious of pressure groups, blaming them for overload and exponential state expansion, one of the stated aims of Thatcherism was to tame the enemy within. ‘ Margaret Thatcher thought that pressure groups were (Jones, 1991, p. 59), always ‘intrusive, meddling and interfering’ with government practices. It was suggested by Watts, (2007, p. 154) that pressure groups only provide for people that have the time, money and educational backgrounds and therefore this automatically excludes people from lower socio economic groups, these are the cohorts in society that really do need their voices to be heard. To conclude, pressure groups are very popular in the United Kingdom, and there are in excess of five thousand diverse groups (Jones, 1991, p. 59). It can be suggested, by the author, that pressure groups have some control over democracy; this is done by assembling the public with similar beliefs, and individual’s freedom to be heard increases power, thus creating movement of power downwards and away from central institutions, ultimately resulting in a fairer democratic society. Continuality of political action enhances democracy as it gives constant reviews to policy.
If there were to be demise in pressure groups, the process would not flow, as government elections only take place every four years. Pressure groups bring to the attention of the public governments activities, ensuring that procedures are being followed. Regardless of positive or negative factors brought on by pressure groups, they play a poignant role in contemporary British politics, although it may not always benefit them or society, their role is to serve individuals politically in ways that elections, campaigns and political parties are unable to.