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Edexcel: Government & Politics, Unit 1, Pressure
Pressure Groups
Definition: “an organisation which seeks to influence a comparatively small range of public policies and which is not attributed to a recognized political party.”

Function of Pressure Groups

Governing process: they play a key role in the governing process. They are involved in all stages of the policy making process, ensuring the interests of the public are taken into account. Representative function: they either represent;
Sections of the public
The interests of the general public. (They claim)

Educative function: they help to educate/inform the public and the government about politically important issues.

Opportunities: they provide more opportunity for political participation than parties do.

Scrutinize: they often scrutinize legislation, giving suggestions on how it may be improved.

Tension release: pressure groups provide an outlet for people’s emotions, particularly if they are strong ones about certain issues (for example, the Iraq war, dog hunting etc.) This is a highly important function, as it helps maintain a peaceful society, as people can channel their emotions in a non-violent way.

Types of Pressure Group

Insider: a pressure group that has strong links with decision makers and are regularly consulted on areas of policy. They are so called because they work inside the political system through MPs, peers and committees. They may have this access because they are deemed to be relatively moderate by the government, who want to be seen as ‘listeners of the people’ and down to earth.
Example: (The Confederation of BritishIndustry (CBI.) This group is regularly consulted by the government and produce reports on how businesses are operating, performing and their attitudes towards new issues such as business taxation.)

Outsider: a pressure group that doesn’t participate in the consultation process. This is either by choice or because they are excluded by the government, because they are deemed to be too radical or because the gov’t doesn’t believe they can work with them.
Because of this, they can only use indirect methods when attempting to influence policy, working outside the political system, mobilizing public opinion & support to get their point across. Example: (Occupy- A group set up to try and balance the differences between executive pay and worker pay.)

Sectional: a pressure group which acts on behalf of a particular section of society (e.g. religious groups.) Usually self-interested.

Example: National Union of Teachers (NUT) represents teachers, campaigning for better pay, pensions and working conditions.

Promotional: a pressure group focused on promoting a particular issue. They aren’t selfinterested as they promote causes that they believe are for the good of the public.

Example: Electoral Reform Society campaign for electoral reform to ‘build a better democracy.’ [1]

Campaign Methods Used by Pressure Groups

This is the practice of trying to influence the opinion of MPs, Lords, and Committees.

Methods of lobbying include:

Sending letters


Making presentations


* Consult with ministers


* Meet with committees to discuss relevant policy areas


* Scrutinizing legislation

Insider pressure groups find it easier to lobby than outsiders, as they already have the vital links to government bodies. Outsiders are still able to lobby however, but typically have less success.

Example: The Ghurkha Justice Campaign

This was a campaign supported by actress Joanna Lumley to allow all ex-Ghurkhas and
Ghurkhas who had served 4 years or more before 1997 to have the right to settle in the UK if they wish. The campaign included petition signing, lobbying MPs, and attending rallies
& marches.

Parliamentary Methods
This is where a pressure group asks an MP to bring up relevant issues as much as possible in the Commons. This is either done because the MP is sympathetic to the cause or because there is financial bribery involved. (Though this is technically illegal.) The House of Lords is particularly useful to pressure groups as the Lords are more independent of party control, so groups are much more likely to find a sympathetic ear. Outsider pressure groups tend not to use this method.

Example: Equality Bill, March 2010.
This Bill was intended to prevent discrimination against women, the disabled, ethnic minorities and gay people. A group of Christian churches sought an exemption on the grounds that they were a ‘special case’ who had a particular reason for excluding gay people. Their amendment to the Bill was successful and the gov’t approved it.

Direct Action
This is when a group attempts to increase their publicity by actively demonstrating their cause. Methods of direct action include:

*Public stunts (e.g. Greenpeace destroying GM crops)


*Protest marches


*Violence (destruction of property, rioting, vandalism.)

Example: Fathers4Justice

This group, who campaign for equal parenting rights, have been the most high profile example of direct action from a pressure group. They have thrown packets of flour at Tony
Blair, dressed up as superheroes and protested from dangerous heights, and have even interrupted a live broadcast of the National Lottery.

Mobilising Public Opinion
This is a method whereby pressure groups use the needs of political parties to their advantage. If a party wishes to retain power, it must ensure that it promotes issues that will win votes at elections. This gives pressure groups the opportunity to persuade parties that their cause is worth pushing for. This helps parties gain voters and gives the cause publicity.

Example: 2005 election. Age UK knew they were in a position to influence policy in the run-up to the election. They pushed hard on issues affecting pensioners, such as pensions, rebates on council tax for the elderly and law and order measures to protect the elderly. As the old-age pensioner vote is fairly crucial for political parties to get (as fewer young people vote) then parties were forced to grant these concessions.

Why are some pressure groups more successful than others?

If they help push through legislation (for example, ASH [2] who successfully campaigned for a ban on tobacco advertising.)
If the group successfully changes legislation that they disagree with. (For example, in 2007, anti-gambling groups secured a vote in the Lords that prevented the Gov’t from opening a ‘super-casino’ in Manchester.
If the group successfully raises the profile of the issue they are campaigning for. (For example, Time to Change, a mental health awareness group, has become better known over recent years. Figures such as Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Alastair Campbell have voiced their support for the campaign, raising its profile dramatically.)

Factors that contribute toward success

Philosophy: should a group share the same philosophies as gov’t, then success will be very likely. For example; business groups tend to do well under the Conservatives, while
Old Labour traditionally favoured Trade Unions. Conversely, rights campaigners such as
‘Unlock Democracy’ have faced resistance from recent governments, who have sought a more authoritarian stance on law and order.

Finance: though being wealthy is no guarantee of success, it can help a pressure group’s influence. As well as donations to political parties, wealthy groups can create expensive campaigns to promote their cause. Many industries, such as farming, oil, tobacco, supermarkets and banks spend large sums of money on lobbying & campaigning behind the scenes. Trade Unions, on the other hand, have considerable funds available for political purposes, but with an unsympathetic gov’t, this can be futile.

Size: some pressure groups have become very large, with Age UK and Friends of the
Earth enjoying the support of 200,000 members. These groups all claim influence through the weight of public opinion. Size often translates itself into finance and voting power. The success of Age UK can be attributed to the fact that elderly people vote in much larger numbers than younger people (in the 2010 general election, 76% of all 65+ year olds in the UK voted, as opposed to just 44% of 18-24 year olds. 3]) However, again, size does not guarantee success.

Organisation: organisation can be just as important as size & finance. If a group manages to organize successful demonstrations, raise its public profile and influence policy then they can be just as successful. The Countryside Alliance, Plane Stupid and Greenpeace are good examples of these as they have been well led and have attracted the attention of the public & media. Careful planning is key.

Opposition groups: very often groups find themselves faced with adversaries arguing the opposing case. This can either hinder or increase success, depending on which side wins more support. For example; the League Against Cruel Sports and the Countryside Alliance.
Arguably the former won because they pushed for The Hunting Act 2004, which banned hunting with dogs. [4]

Insider status: there is little doubt that insiders who have ongoing contact with gov’t and
Parliament reap the rewards. They are even sought out by gov’t who rely upon them for info and support.

Celebrity Involvement: even the tiniest link with a celebrity can make a pressure group far more influential and respected. For example; Joanna Lumley, who supported the Gurkha
Justice Campaign, triumphed when then Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced in the
Commons that all Ghurkha veterans who had retired 4 years or more before 1997 were allowed to settle in the UK. Lumley was key to raising the publicity of the campaign, as she was essentially the face of it. Another example would be Jamie Oliver, whose campaign
‘School Dinners’ resulted in a School Food Trust being set up by the Blair gov’t in 2005, who provide advice to schools to improve the quality of school meals.

The changing nature & activity of pressure groups

The importance of pressure groups has grown in recent years, and is likely to continue to do so. There are several reasons for this:

The importance of political parties has been declining. Membership of parties has fallen, as well as voting turnouts.
Conservative membership -1951: 2.9 million -2011: 177,000
Labour membership -1951: 876,000 -2011: 190,000


However, membership of pressure groups has been rising. This is because there are a large number of young non-voters who are disillusioned with party politics and are much

more interested in issues that directly affect them. Pressure groups provide an outlet for these young people. There are now more members of the RSPB and the Caravan Club than the political parties put together.

RSPB- over 1 million members
Caravan club- 1 million members

Access points
Nowadays, pressure groups have many more ‘access points’ to decision makers that they used to. As well as domestic access points, such as gov’t ministers, civil servants, and advisers, pressure group now have access to a much wider range of institutions, namely:

The European Union
Local authorities (devolved power.)
The courts (since the passing of the human rights act.)
Other policy making bodies outside the party system

Devolution A considerable amount of power has been devolved to Scottish, Welsh and
Northern Ireland government. The main policy areas that have been devolved are health, education, transport, planning, industrial development, agriculture and local government services. Though most pressure group activity remains in London, they are branching out towards devolved areas such as Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

Extra-party institutions There are now a wide range of external think tanks, policy units, private advisers that have the task of moulding policy and feeding it back to government.
Pressure groups like to be involved in the early stages of policy making. The best way they can achieve this is by employing professional lobbyists who can manoeuvre their way through the maze of policy-making institutions. These professionals identify the key decision

makers, secure contacts with them and ensure that the information the pressure group wants to get across is fed directly to them.

The Human Rights Act The human rights act was passed in 1998 and brought into British law in 2000. Its effect was to reinforce and introduce a wide range of rights, many of which designed to protect minority interests. Since many pressure groups represent minorities, the
Act gave them an opportunity to assert themselves. By addressing the courts, a pressure group may now be able to seek a judgment that protects it from oppressive legislation. The human rights campaign group, Liberty, has been especially active in this area. For example;
In 2000, Liberty supported terminally ill Dianne Pretty in her fight to die with dignity by using the Human Rights Act to defend her case. However, the European Court of Human
Rights ruled against her case in 2002, and she later died of her disease (motor neurone syndrome.) Direct Action
It used to be the case that insider pressure groups had a distinct advantage over outsiders because they had direct access to decision makers and made an instant impact. This has been changing however. Many outsiders now feel they can exert more pressure on the government by mobilising public opinion, rather than pursuing direct links with gov’t.
Indeed, modern governments are responsive to mass political movements, for example:

Gurkha Justice Campaign
Forest Sell-Off: the government made a full u-turn in Feb 2011 over their pledge to sell
15% of the public forest estate 2015. This was after a fierce backlash from the public, ¾ of whom disagreed with the measure. [6] Over 500,000 members of 38 degrees, an online campaign group, signed a ‘Save our Forests’ petition. Shadow Environmental Secretary
Mary Creagh called it ‘a victory for people power.’

Distinctions between pressure groups and political parties

There can be a fine line between pressure groups and political parties. There are a number of areas in which they overlap, for example;

• Both attempt to influence policies
• Both representative bodies, claiming to represent their members and supporters.
• Both try to mobilise public opinion to promote issues of interest

But there are also critical differences. The most important is:

Parties seek power; pressure groups do not.

Other distinctions include;

Ø Policy. A party must have their own policy on a range of political issues. Pressure groups focus on one or a few issues.

Ø Responsibility. A party must accept responsibility for al the policies they propose.
Pressure groups don’t have to be accountable, as they will never be in power.

Ø Behaviour. A party must behave in a responsible way. Some pressure groups act illegally to promote their cause.

For example;


Greenpeace has waged a long campaign against GM crops, claiming they are environmentally damaging and dependent on toxic chemicals. However, there are benefits to GM crops. They could be a long-term solution to poverty in some developing countries.
Despite this, Greenpeace can safely oppose GM crops, because they are not accountable.

Governments, on the other hand, cannot take this risk. They have to consider the benefits and problems of GM crops and then come to a conclusion, as they are an elected body.

Blurring between pressure groups and parties


Some pressure groups offer candidates for election.

They do this to create publicity for themselves. In the 2010 general election, single-issue parties such as Animals Count and the Senior Citizens Party offered the electorate a few alternative candidates.

However, this does not make them political parties. They put candidates forward merely to raise their profile. They weren’t realistically seeking office.


Some pressure groups adopt a wide range of policies.

Certain pressure groups like trade unions or business groups such as the CBI may develop a wide range of policies. However, since they do not seek to implement these policies by becoming elected, they are not parties.


Some pressure groups work very closely with government.

The CBI is such and example. Works closely with government, publishing reports about the current economic climate and advising them on business issues. They work with governments in the UK and abroad. However; despite their insider status they remain an independent organisation, lobbying ministers and representing over 250,000 companies.

Democratic role of pressure groups

Education Pressure groups offer a lot of free information to people. They are independent of government, so their message is independent of any governmental influence. Though we cannot rely on the information being totally accurate, if we combine it with other sources then we can come to our own conclusion.

Pressure groups represent virtually all the various interests of the public. As motorists, patients, students, sportsmen, environmentalists and so on, we can be sure that there will be a pressure group representing us to the government. They also protect the interests of minorities in society; for example, the Sikh Federation represents all Sikhs in British society.

Participation A passive population is seen as a danger to democracy. When people completely disengage from any political activity, there is the possibility that governments will become dictatorial. Political activism therefore is vital to maintaining an accountable government and a thriving democracy. With declining levels of party membership, pressure groups have provided a vital opportunity for political participation.

Minority Interests Perhaps the most important democratic feature of pressure groups is that they ensure that all of out views are taken into account, protected and awarded equal status. If this does not occur, then there is a danger that democracy simply becomes ruled th by the majority. The 19 century Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill referred to this as the
‘tyranny of the majority.’ Seeking majority support, political parties will inevitably have to ignore the interests of many minorities. Therefore, it is important that pressure groups exist in order to ensure party rule is not converted into tyranny.

The Dispersal of Power The conventional view of pressure groups is that they help spread power more widely. This would be seen by most as an enhancement of democracy. While
Governments and parties tend to concentrate power in the hands of leaderships, pressure groups empower all of their members, giving them direct or indirect links to decision makers.
For example, Age UK represents a large number of elderly people across the UK to government. Undemocratic features of pressure groups

Disproportionate influence
Some groups wield more power than their size would suggest. There are some sectional groups that we rely on a great deal and so have to take their demands into account.
The farming community, for instance, accounts for a tiny proportion of the population, but farmers are responsible for much of our food supply. Similarly, transport, emergency and medical workers may have more power than groups employed in the private sector.

Finance Clearly some groups have access to more funds than others. All those sectional interests that represent employers and business generally have far more finance available to them than charities, which have to rely on public donations or lottery funding. Wealthy groups have also adopted the practice of giving donations to political parties, hoping to win them over. In 2006-7, it was alleged that a number of individuals had donated to political parties in return for peerages. This ‘cash for peerages’ scandal undermined faith in British democracy and highlighted the issue of the unfair advantage wealthy groups had over poorer ones.

Size When the Countryside Alliance put an estimated 300,000 sympathisers on the streets in 2003 to protest against the ban on hunting with dogs, the government was panicked into action, including an attempt to water down the hunting bill in Parliament. However- the huge numbers protesting did not represent the views of the public, who were mainly in favour of a full ban on fox hunting.

Concentration of power (elitism)
Though pressure groups are meant to spread power effectively, when we look at the wealthy, strategically important groups, we can see evidence of elitism. Some pressure groups may concentrate their power in the hands of a few. Business groups, in particular, tend to represent their shareholders and management rather than their workers. When such elite are insider groups, they might form a powerful elite in combination with the gov’t.

Internal Democracy
Some pressure group leaders may not truly represent the views of their members. In other words, the group may not be internally democratic. This used to be an accusation of trade union leaders (less so since reform of the unions in the 1980s) and it remains a danger.
Party politicians are made accountable for their actions through the electoral process. This isn’t the case with pressure group leaders. Democratic controls on pressure groups are weaker than those affecting parties.
Examples of pressure groups to use:

Citizens UK (outsider/promotional)

Ø A community organising group whose aim is to build to power of communities to work towards a better country.
Ø Good to use for: - Types of pressure group - Differences between pressure groups & political parties - Democratic role of pressure groups -Pluralism
Ø Achieve this by mobilizing people from communities to campaign for change, such as the CitySafe campaign, which aims to reduce crime by establishing CitySafe Havens, areas where local businesses are encouraged to report 100% of crime, building better relationships between young people and the police is pursued and can act as a safe haven for any young person in danger.

Countryside Alliance (insider/sectional)

Ø Created in 1997 in response to the Labour governments pledge to ban dog hunting. Now to major campaigner for rural issues, including hunting, shooting, fishing and other country sports. Ø Good to use for: -Success of pressure groups. (Unsuccessful as the League Against
Cruel Sports, which campaigned for a ban on hunting in the UK, won when the Hunting Bill was passed in 2004.) - Types of pressure group
Ø Desperately trying to repeal the Bill. National Hunting Week later this year. Race for
Repeal event at Ascot in March. Have the support of David Cameron and current gov’t have promised a free vote on repeal of the Bill in this Parliament.

League Against Cruel Sports (outsider/sectional)
Ø Established in 1924, to expose and end the cruelty inflicted on animals for sport.
Ø Good to used for: - Success of pressure groups. - Types of pressure group (good example of sectional.)
Ø Campaigned for 8 years for a ban on all hunting activities in England and Wales.
Culminated in the passing of the Hunting Act 2004. Still fighting threats of repeal by setting up ‘Keep Cruelty History’ campaign.

Fathers 4 Justice (outsider/sectional)

Ø Established in 2001 by activist Matt O’Connor after he was denied access to his two boys following his divorce.
Ø Good to use for: - Types of pressure group (good for outsider.) - Methods of pressure groups (direct action) - Success of pressure groups (media profile) - Nature of direct action
Ø Threw packet of flour at Tony Blair, dressed up as superheroes and protested from
London landmarks, and interrupted a live broadcast of the National Lottery.

Gurkha Justice Campaign (outsider/sectional)

Ø Established in 2003 by Peter Carroll after he was approached to assist a retired Gurkha who was facing deportation from the UK after 22 years service.
Ø Good to use for: - Success of pressure groups (celeb involvement, organisation.) Methods of pressure groups - Types of pressure groups
Ø Then home secretary Jacqui Smith announced in the Commons in 2009 that all Ghurkhas who had served 4 years or more before 1997 would have the right to settle in the UK if they wish. Joanna Lumley was the face of the campaign, raised public profile.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) (insider/promotional)

Ø Established in 1965. Not for profit organisation which promotes the interests of its members, namely 200,000 British businesses. Play a leading role in influencing gov’t on business and economic issues.
Ø Good to use for: - Success of pressure groups (insider status) - Types of pressure group
Ø CBI enjoys the support of David Cameron, William Hague and Jim O’Neill, chairman of
Goldman Sachs, all of whom spoke at their last annual conference in 2011. Its methods include lobbying & advising governments, networking with other businesses and compiling statistics about the UK economy from a range of sophisticated data.
[1] [2] Action on Smoking and
Health [3] oItemId=2613 [4] [5] news/uk-politics-12934148 [6]…...

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