Unit 1: Pressure Groups
A Pressure Group is an organised group that does not hold candidates for election, but seeks to influence and change government policy or legislation. They are also described as ‘interest groups’, ‘lobby groups’ or ‘protest groups’. In Britain, the number of political parties is on the small scale compared to the mass number of pressure groups that run into their thousands. Pressure Groups can be distinguished in a variety of different ways including; local/national/European/transnational groups and temporary/permanent groups, however the most common distinctions are between:
Interest and cause groups / Insider and outsider groups
Interest groups (sometimes called ‘sectional’, ‘protective’ or ‘functional’ groups) are groups that represent a particular section of society, for example, workers, employers, consumers, an ethnic or religious group.
Interest groups have the following features:
- They are concerned to protect or advance the interests of their members
- Limited membership to people in a particular occupation, career or economic position
- Members that are motivated by material self-interest
Examples of this type of group are trade unions, business corporations, trade associations and professional bodies. They are called ‘sectional’ groups because they represent a particular section of the population. Specific examples include the British Medical Association (BMA), the Law Society, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) as the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
Cause groups (sometimes called ‘promotional’, ‘attitude’ or ‘issue’ groups) are groups that are based on shared attitudes or values, rather than the common interests of its members. They seek to advance many and various causes and range from charity activities, poverty reduction, education and the environment, to human rights, international development and peace.
Cause groups have the following features:
- They seek to advance particular ideals or principles
- Membership is open to all
- Members are motivated by moral or altruistic concerns (the betterment of others)
Specific examples of cause groups include the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Amnesty International, Shelter, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Electoral Reform Society.
Insider groups are groups that are consulted on a regular basis by government and operate ‘inside’ the decision-making process yet the degree at which they are consulted varies. ‘Ultra-insider’ groups are regularly consulted at ministerial or senior official level within the executive. Examples of insider groups include the CBI, National Farmers’ Union (NFU), BMA, MENCAP and the Howard League for Penal Reform. Where as an Outsider group is a pressure group that is either not consulted by government or consulted only irregularly and rarely at a senior level.
Below are some of the UK’s key pressure groups:
UK Uncut Involves a network of protest groups whose main aim is to protest against tax avoidance in the UK and raise awareness about cuts to public spending. The group uses direct action to get its message across and actions are organised independently by local UK Uncut groups and promoted through the UK Uncut website.
Until August 2005, Britain in Europe was the main British pro-European pressure group in Britain. It was founded by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine and Charles Kennedy. It initially founded to campaign a “ yes” vote for the euro but later progressed to support a “yes” vote for the referendum on the Treaty establishing a constitution for europe.
On 17 August 2005, the group was wound up following the French and Dutch “No” votes on the proposed European Constitution. Its resources were turned over to the European Movement.
Greenpeace is an international organization whose goal is to “ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its diversity”. They have offices in over 40 countries so do not accept funding from governments, corporations or political parties. But instead rely on 2.9million individual supporters and foundation grants. They focus on world-wide issues such as deforestation, overfishing, global warming, commercial whaling, genetic engineering and anti-nuclear issues. Greenpeace uses direct action, lobbying and research to achieve its goals.
Amnesty International Non-governmental organization focused on human rights. The objective of the organisation is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”Amnesty draws attention to human rights abuses and campaigns for compliance with international laws and standards. It works to mobilise public opinion to put pressure on governments that let abuse take place.
Migration Watch UK is an immigration and asylum think-tank, which describes itself as independent and non-political. It is chaired by Sir Andrew Green, a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The company’s objective is “to conduct research into migration issues and to educate the public about the relevant facts”. The organisation is not registered as a charity but operates instead as a company limited by guarantee and its website states that the organisation relies on donations from the public.
Here is a more detailed video/audio about pressure groups:
By Abigail Owusu