Examples of Pressure Groups
38 Degrees: 38 Degrees is an example of a wide, ‘umbrella’ group that uses social media and other tactics to attempt to effect change. The group was set up in 2009 and has around 2.5 million members.
The success in stopping the privatisation of England’s forests was a notable success for the group. The group organises online petitions for, potentially, any issue, for example, the prevention of privatisation, tackling online bullying, stopping the closure of A&E departments, down to stopping the use of palm oil in banknotes. A number of signatures gained indicates the strength of support and may pressurise the government to act, as seen in the above example.
This group is a good example of how social media can be harnessed to influence the government. Thousands of people can show their support for an issue/cause without having to leave their home. Demonstrations become much easier to organise, information can be disseminated more easily and quickly, and new protest movements have formed as a direct result of social media Promotional/cause groups have been increasing in power, with over half the groups currently in existence having been created since 1960. Such groups have more ‘access points’ to have an influence, for example, devolved governments, the effect of the Human Rights Act (there is now legal scope to challenge laws), and through the EU.
Trade unions: Whilst many cause groups have utilised social media to enhance their influence, it has been argued that pressure group power is not increasing in the same way for all groups. Until the 1970s, the practice of corporatism was followed, whereby groups were closely integrated with the government. This was brought to an end by the Thatcher government, which had a strong suspicion of the trade unions, and so began to deny access to such groups.
Combined with legislation making it more difficult for trade unions to effectively organise action (for example in the form of strikes), together with declining membership numbers, has meant that the influence of trade unions on the policy-making process has declined dramatically. Some have argued that even the large membership of other groups may not be a reliable indicator of involvement, due to the ‘chequebook group’ idea.
Methods Used by Pressure Groups
Pressure groups attempt to exert influence in a number of ways. This will depend on how much access they have to government.
Ministers/civil servants: insider groups are involved with consultations with government officials. Ministers will use the knowledge and expertise of the group to formulate policy and to assess the potential impact of policy. Groups such as the CBI and BMA will often consult with ministers for these purposes.
Parliament: some groups exert influence through Parliament, through lobbying MPs, for example. Groups will write to MPs asking them to raise issues in Parliament, or to initiate private members’ bills. Groups without direct access to ministers will often use this method.
Political Parties: some groups try to develop links with political parties. The link between the trade unions and the Labour Party is the best example of this. Trade unions provide substantial funding to the Labour Party, and in return they have an influence on not only policy but also the election of the party leader, as many of the votes for leader historically came from trade union members. This influence was shown in 2010 when Ed Miliband surprisingly defeated his brother David to become leader. A large chunk of his votes came from trade union members.
Public opinion: outsider groups tend to try to influence public opinion in order to indirectly influence government policy. If enough public support for a particular issue is garnered, this will pressurise the government into taking action on the issue, as there may be electoral consequences if they don’t. This is seen in recent years through the organising of public protests against student tuition fees and cuts to the welfare budget. Public opinion can also be swayed by groups through appealing to certain people, for example professionals in a certain field and journalists, who then may put pressure on the government to act.
Direct action: this includes measures such as strikes, blockades and boycotts, and is designed to disrupt the running of the country. Civil disobedience is also an element of this- breaking the law for what is seen as a justified, moral purpose. These actions are designed to pressurise the government into acting. Examples include anti-war campaigner Brian Haw protesting outside of Parliament for five years from 2001.
The courts: some groups seek influence through legal means. These are attempts to challenge government policy on legal grounds, through the use of judicial review. Even if unsuccessful, the challenges can gain publicity for the group’s cause. For example, opponents of the proposed high speed rail link (HS2) took their argument to the Supreme Court in 2014.
The above tactics are not just used by pressure groups in the traditional sense. Wealthy multinational corporations (and individuals), academic bodies, research groups and think tanks (groups formed to discuss and develop policy recommendations and proposals) will also attempt to influence government in similar ways.
- Explain, with examples, how pressure groups seek to exert influence. (6 marks - two paragraphs)
- Your answer should include: Ministers / Civil / Servants / Lobbying / Links / Public / Opinion / Direct / Action / Courts