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Page last edited: 25/05/2016. .

Very useful new Link October 2013: You may now visit Steve' Bassett's Park College Sociology Department You Tube Page for excellent materials on Political Sociology including Screen Casts on Pressure Groups and New Social Movements.

February 2014. I have added a little information on the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Law [the so- called "Gagging Law " here.

Very useful new link January 2016  Click here for new article from The Conversation on Political Dissent and Protest  .

 

 

The study of pressure groups involves the consideration of a variety of different theoretical approaches to the analysis of the nature of political power as well as the detailed investigation of the processes by which pressure groups seek to exercise political power within ever changing political systems. 3 documents are currently available on the site and additional documents covering other significant aspects of the topic [as addressed in various examination specifications] will be uploaded in future.  Students should use these resources in conjunction with the several excellent textbooks covering this topic while Pressure Groups {Duncan Watts: Edinburgh University Press 2007] provides very useful more detailed information.

Pressure Groups : An Introduction

Pressure Groups and Political Power

Pressure Groups and Democracy

Theories of Political Power and Pressure Group Activity  [Not yet available]

Pressure Groups and New Social Movements [See above link to Park College Sociology Department You Tube Page ]

Recent Changes in Pressure Group Activity [Not yet available]

Very useful Presentation on Pressure Groups in British Politics from Institute of Government [NEW Link added November 2014]

 

 


Document One: Pressure Groups: An Introduction

 

 

 

 

Source: Greenpeace

greenpeace logo

Document Contents

Definition of Pressure Groups

Comparing Pressure Groups and Political Parties

Classification of Pressure Groups

Functions of Pressure Groups

Pressure Group Methods

Factors influencing Pressure Group Power [Separate document]

 Pressure Groups and Democracy [Separate document]

 

 

Source: Greenpeace

bomb

 

 

Source: Greenpeace

cnd logo

WWF logo

Source: WWF


A pressure group may be defined as any organisation which seeks through a variety of methods to influence public policy and decisions at local, national, European or international levels usually [but certainly not always] within a particular, quite limited sphere. We may note also that many pressure groups may in some circumstances seek to defend their members interests or to advance their particular cause via appeals to the Courts ..

1.UK political  parties contest local, devolved, general and European elections  whereas pressure groups do so only very rarely.  Most UK political parties contest local ,devolved and general elections because  they hope to form a local council, a devolved government  or a national government or at least to secure the election of some party representatives to the local council, to the devolved political institutions, to the European Parliament or to the House of Commons. Minor parties have contested elections with varying levels of success. In the past  the Green Party  candidates  stood for election with no realistic chances of winning but in recent years they have become increasingly successful in local and  European elections and also in the 2010 General Election .Both the UK Independence Party and  Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party have stood unsuccessfully in recent General Elections but UKIP has a achieved a measure of success European Parliament Elections.  The British National Party has also had some success in some local council elections and in European Elections but has performed very poorly in General Elections. Meanwhile some small left wing political parties such as the Socialist Workers' Party reject participation in elections on the grounds that they inhibit the prospects for real socialism.

 2. Contrastingly  pressure groups rarely contest elections since they seek to influence local councils, devolved institutions, national governments and European political institutions not to send representatives to these institutions nor to form governments: that is they seek to influence political representatives in their decision making rather than themselves to become decision -making political representatives . However there are exceptions to this general rule as when  a representative of the Greenham Common women stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate in the 1980s and single issue candidates are occasionally elected to Parliament as in 1997 when the journalist Martin Bell successfully stood as an anti-corruption candidate in Tatton  and Dr Richard Taylor successfully stood as the Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern candidate in 2001 and 2005.

3. Most political parties must develop policies over the whole range of government activity from Foreign Affairs to Social Security and from Education to Crime Prevention  whereas many pressure groups concentrate on only one or a small number of issues although some pressure groups such as trade unions ,the CBI  and, to some extent,  Greenpeace do also develop policies in a wide range of policy areas whereas some small political parties have focussed on a limited number of key concerns.  In this respect the Referendum Party could in some respects be seen as a pressure group rather than a political party: its main concern was to pressurise other political parties to alter their European policies; it had few interests in other policy areas and there was no prospect that it would be successful in returning candidates to parliament. 

Pressure groups have been classified in a variety of ways such that we may distinguish in principle between the following different kinds of pressure groups although individual pressure groups may well fall into more than one of these categories so that for example the trade unions might be described as  primary, sectional and  permanent pressure groups which have sometimes but not always attained insider status , which may operate at local, national  and international levels and also has a peak organisation known as the T.U.C. [Trades Union Congress].

 

Although political analysts are concerned mainly with the capacities of pressure groups to exert political influence and with the methods by which they attempt to do so we must recognise also that most pressure groups engage in a mixture of "political" and "non-political" activities. Primary pressure groups are organisations which involve themselves in political activities designed to influence public policy whereas secondary pressure groups engage mainly in non-political activity and involve themselves in actual political processes only rarely. Examples of primary pressure groups include organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society and Charter 88 whereas churches and many [but not all] charities would be seen as mainly secondary pressure groups. Charities  may face the threat of a loss of charitable status if their objectives are seen as excessively political.

However this classificatory system must be used with care  because of the disputes around the definitions of "political" and "non-political" activities. For example trade unions  and business pressure groups are  often involved in obviously political negotiations with government but their negotiations with each other and with individual employers over wages, working conditions and potential redundancies  may also be regarded as "political" in some senses which suggests that these  pressure groups too should be regarded as primary pressure groups. Similarly if we argue that all actions on the environment are essentially "political" this implies that pressure groups such as Greenpeace and FoE should also be regarded as primary pressure groups.

Sectional groups aim to protect the interests of their members. For example, Trade Unions seek to increase the earnings and improve the living standards of their members, while the Confederation of British Industry (the CBI) aims to influence the government to adopt policies such as the reduction in business taxation or increased government grants to industry which are likely to improve the prospects for private industry within the economy.  Membership of  sectional pressure groups is confined to those who are personally involved in the sector of activity which the pressure groups represent: thus for example the trade union movement represents only trade unionists and specific trade unions represent only the trade union members employed in specific industries or trades and professional associations such as the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing represent only doctors and nurses respectively.

Click here for some recent information from the BBC on  Trade Unions and here for information from the TUC website and here for information on strikes from the ONS website.  Click here and here for Ipsos Mori poll data on attitudes to trade unions.

Promotional or Cause groups do not aim to protect the interests of their members but to advance causes that their members consider to be important. Examples of Promotional or Cause groups include Shelter, CND, Amnesty International and the Child Poverty Action Group. Membership of promotional or cause groups is open to any individuals who wish to identify with the causes advanced by particular groups.

This is a useful distinction is useful but some groups may be seen as partly Sectional and partly Cause groups in that, for example, the Trade Unions have in the past supported  a wide variety of causes such as the ending of Apartheid in South Africa and, in some cases, unilateral nuclear disarmament  as well as trying to protect the living standards of their members. Also some pressure groups such as for example the Countryside Alliance might be seen by some as a sectional pressure group concerned to protect the interests of landowners, farmers and other rural interests but they may themselves claim that they are a promotional or cause groups standing for the protection of local democracy in rural areas and against the imposition of policies designed by a metropolitan political elite which has no understanding of countryside issues. Obviously if the Countryside Alliance succeeds in promoting itself as a champion of local democracy its support and hence, perhaps, its political influence is likely to increase.

More generally it is possible that some people may visualise a given pressure group as a sectional pressure group and join it to protect their own interests while others see the same pressure group more as a cause or promotional group: teachers and doctors for example might join a teachers' union or the BMA respectively partly in order to protect their own interests but partly because they believe that teachers' unions and the BMA articulate broadly progressive attitudes to education and health issues respectively. Most recently [September 2010] the Police Federation which represents rank and file police officers has attempted to present itself  as a champion of law and order by calling attention to the possible effects of reductions in government spending on law and order on the extent of criminal activity as part of its attempt in difficult circumstances to defend its members' employment prospects.

[Given the difficulty of determining  in some cases  whether  a particular pressure group is a sectional group or a cause/promotional group it has been suggested that some pressure groups might reasonably be described as hybrid groups containing some characteristics of both sectional and promotional/cause groups.]

It is also important to distinguish, very importantly, between Insider and Outsider groups. Insider pressure groups are those groups which are most likely to be consulted regularly by governments and pressure groups are most likely to achieve Insider group status if they can demonstrate that they possess at least some of the following features.

It is argued that insider groups with these characteristics are especially likely to be able to influence government policy decisions. Examples of Insider groups include the British Medical Association, the Law Society and the Automobile Association .

Outsider groups are essentially the reverse of Insider groups.

Outsider groups may actively prefer  outsider status because they themselves recognise that their own objectives are never likely to be shared by governments and believe that closer links with government will result only in the moderation of the groups' fundamental objectives. Instead they choose to involve themselves in various forms of direct action in the hope of increasing mass public support which, they hope, will lead eventually to fundamental changes in government policy. Outsider groups such as  CND which, in the fairly recent past, have been able to mobilise very large demonstrations always stressed the need for orderly behaviour so as not to alienate public support but other groups such as the Animal Liberation Front and the Hunt Saboteurs Association are prepared to use potentially disorderly and illegal methods. These more radical groups have certainly attracted mass publicity and, perhaps, considerable support for their aims, if not for their methods.

Other outsider groups may actually seek insider status but fail to achieve it because their objectives and/or methods  are rejected by governments and, perhaps, becoming less popular with the general public. Thus it may be argued that the trade unions were certainly insider pressure groups in the era of corporatism during the 1960s and 1970s but that they lost their insider status despite their large [albeit declining] membership in the 1980s and 1990s because of ideological differences with successive Conservative Governments. Disputes occurred also between Conservative governments and the CBI in the early 1980s but it may be fair to say that the CBI never completely lost its insider status.

Wyn Grant has subdivided Insider and Outsider pressure groups as follows:

 

Insider Pressure Groups

Outsider Pressure groups

(i) High profile insiders are groups which although they are closely involved in negotiations with government may seek to enhance their influence via regular access to the media

i) Ideological outsider groups
(ii) Low profile insiders - which avoid close relationships with the media (ii) Outsider groups by necessity
iii) Prisoner groups which are insiders by necessity. Organisations representing local councils such as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils are possible examples iii) Potential insiders

 

 The RSPCA, the ALF and the Hunt Saboteurs Association all support animal welfare but whereas the RSPCA is an Insider pressure group the ALF and the HSA are both outsider pressure groups.

RSPCA

fox

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Although the distinction between Insider and Outsider pressure groups is clearly a useful one it has been argued that this terminology must, for a variety of reasons be used with care.

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether particular pressure groups are Inside or Outsiders and, in some cases, their status may change. For example, it may be that Greenpeace was initially an Outsider group, but over the years, may be moving toward Insider status on some if not all issues. Also, the Trade Unions would certainly have been regarded as an Insider group for much of the post 2nd World War period but my almost have become an Outsider group during the Conservative administrations of 1979-1997 and its influence with Labour governments led by Tony Blair has also been less than with earlier post 2nd world war Labour governments. Furthermore some pressure groups may be simultaneously outsiders at national level and insiders at local level as was the case of various pressure groups supporting gay rights and unilateral disarmament in the 1980s which were influential with the Labour controlled Greater London Council and Metropolitan County Councils but not with Mrs Thatcher's Conservative central government.

It has been argued that, for variety of reasons , the distinction between Insider Groups and Outsider Groups has become less meaningful in the last twenty years or so. We should note also that outsider pressure groups can sometimes exercise considerable political influence as when the Anti-Poll Tax Federation played a considerable role in the eventual abolition of the Poll Tax which was also a major factor in the eventual forced resignation from the premiership of Mrs Thatcher.

 

Insider Pressure Groups, Outsider Pressure Groups and Policy Network Analysis.

The recognition of both the strengths and limitations of the distinction between Insider and Outsider Pressure Groups can be related to the evolution of policy network analysis which has the following main elements.

  1. Policy Network analysis is associated especially with the political scientists Professor R. Rhodes and Professor D. Marsh.
  2. It is recognised that one of the key organisational characteristics of British Government is its subdivision into separate government departments each having prime responsibility for policy formulation in its particular sphere of activity although of course some inter-departmental coordination of policy is also necessary.
  3. In each departmental policy area policy networks are created involving relationships between ministers, senior officials and pressure group representatives.
  4. The strength of these relationships will vary as between different departments and may be analysed in terms of a continuum ranging from at one extreme Policy Communities areas where Government- Pressure Group relationships are very strong, to Professional Networks, to Inter-governmental Networks , to Producer Networks, to Issue Networks [where Government- Pressure Group relationships are very weak.
  5. This approach that even though pressure groups may be insiders in the sense that they are consulted by government the frequency of consultation and the strength of different pressure groups may vary very considerably

This approach to political analysis involves considerable complexities which I shall not consider here. For students who do require further information the textbook British Politics [D. Kavanagh, , D. Richards, M. Smith and A. Geddes: Oxford University Press 2006] has a very useful chapter on Pressure Groups with about 4 pages of information on Policy Network analysis. Luckily this chapter is available as a sample chapter and can be found by clicking here and then on the appropriate link on the right hand side of the page.

Students who need to consider  the distinctions between insider and outsider pressure groups and the analysis of policy networks in more details may click here and here for some detailed information

Peak or umbrella organisations are organisations which represent the collective interests of a number of similar pressure groups. For example most Trade Unions are affiliated to the TUC (Trade Union Congress) which aims to further the aims of the union movement: by devising economic and social policies designed to improve the living standards of their members and aiming to secure acceptance of these policies by Government . The TUC exercised considerable influence over Labour and to a lesser extent Conservative governments from 1945 to 1979  but its influence over Conservative and Labour governments has declined subsequently and in the current economic climate one may expect relationships between the TUC and the Coalition Government to be strained.

The TUC aims to improve inter-union cooperation in the hope that union solidarity will strengthen their bargaining position. This policy has sometimes been effective  but  there are sometimes important differences of opinion among individual Trade Unions and the TUC has often been unable to resolve these. For example, craft unions in general favour the maintenance of skill differentials but unions representing the low-paid are against them.

General business interests are also represented by  peak or umbrella organisations such as the  Confederation of British Industry , the Institute of Directors and the British Chambers of  Commerce while there are also organisations often known as Employers'  Federations which can be regarded as peak organisations in the sense that they speak for most companies within a given industry or trade. One would normally expect peak business organisations to have closer relationships with Conservative governments but they do of course seek influence with whatever political party is in government and relationships with recent Labour governments may have been easier due to the more pro- business attitudes adopted by Labour in the Blair- Brown era while relationships between the CBI and the Coalition government have not necessarily been entirely harmonious as is shown in this recent report on the CBI from the BBC. [I shall provide some further information on Peak Organisations in  future documents on pressure groups which will contain some discussion of Corporatism, the New Right, New Labour and pressure groups.]

Pressure groups may concern themselves primarily with local, national or international issues and negotiation or with a combination of all three types of activity. A small local pressure group may, for example, seek to influence local council decisions on a variety of specifically local issues such as  decisions whether to license the building of new supermarket branches, to permit the opening of new music venues ,r to introduce speeding restrictions and/or  "speed bumps" in roads close to schools or to extent recycling arrangements. Conversely other pressure groups may operate at local and/or national and/or international levels. A large national trade union may sometimes be involved in negotiations affecting wages or working conditions in one particular firm but at other times may be obliged to negotiate with a national employer's association and national government and/or with the political institutions of the EU and with multinational corporations. Business pressure groups and large environmental pressure groups may similarly be involved at various times in negotiations at local, national and international levels.

Whereas some pressure groups are likely to be permanent because they have been formed to address issues which are seen as likely to dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future others are formed to address issues which are essentially temporary. Thus it is to be expected that there will always be economic issues in a capitalist society which are perceived differently by employees and employers so that both trade unions and business pressure groups are likely to be permanent fixtures on the political landscape. Similar conclusions apply to pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, Action Aid  related organisations now that environmental issues and world poverty occupy a more permanent position on the political agenda. However even in relation to pressure groups regarded as permanent there may be important organisational changes: in recent years there have been union mergers  as unions attempted to protect their bargaining power in response to the general decline in trade union membership which has occurred since the 1970s and new environmental pressure groups have emerged which are critical of what they perceive to be the incorporation of the once radical Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

Other pressure groups are very likely to be temporary because they have been set up to address essentially temporary issues such as a hospital or school closure or a road building scheme or a building project on  a green field site. Once final decisions have actually been taken for or against these particular initiatives the pressure group loses its reason for existence.

In their analyses of temporary pressure groups theorists also sometimes distinguish between episodic groups and fire brigade groups.  Episodic groups are groups which have been formed for non-political purposes but which may involve themselves in political questions if they feel that their interests are threatened [e.g.  the local amateur soccer leagues may register their opposition to proposals to sell off playing fields and then return to their usual non-political stance once this "episode" has been resolved. Fire brigade groups are groups which are set up in response to a particular political issue and which may disappear completely once the issue has been resolved because they no longer have any reason to exist although the group might continue if, for example, some of its members decide to support similar campaigns  possibly in nearby areas .  

  1. Pressure groups aim to inform and educate both their members and the overall population about political issues.
  2.  They provide an organised channel through which individuals may participate in the political process and seek to influence policies of local government ,devolved assemblies, national government, European political institutions and wider international institutions such as the UN. Increasingly also some pressure groups seek to influence the activities of multinational corporations.
  3. Whereas political parties represent voters' views over a wide range of political issues, pressure groups can represent individuals' views on particular issues such as animal rights or poverty.
  4. Pressure groups  serve as a pool of talent for political recruitment in that many party politicians begin their careers as pressure group activists. 
  5. Pressure groups may seek to raise controversial issues and to support minorities which political parties neglect for fear of electoral unpopularity. Thus for example pressure groups were more active than political parties in early campaigns in support of gay rights although all main political parties are nowadays  committed to the protection of gay rights.
  6. Pressure groups provide opportunities for individuals to influence government policy between elections which obviously strengthens the overall democratic process. 
  7. Pressure groups scrutinise the activities of government and publicise cases of government mismanagement and government activities which may be  "ultra vires" [i.e. actions which exceed the powers granted in current legislation.] They therefore provide an important mechanism for the limitation of excessive executive power .
  8. Pressure groups may provide governments with useful information although ,at the same time, a government will wish to take account of possible bias in this information.
  9. Once policy decisions have been arrived at following negotiation between government and relevant pressure groups leaders, the leaders may then encourage their members to accept these decisions, as when Trade Union leaders in the corporatist 1970s encouraged their members to accept relatively low pay increases in exchange for government promises to protect employment and to increase the scope of the Welfare State. These strategies were not especially successful but it is clear that they could not have been devised without the support of the trade union movement.

Because the areas adjoining legislative debating chambers have often been described as "lobbies" where representatives could engage in discussions among themselves or with journalists, members of the public or representatives of pressure groups the processes by which pressure group representatives seek to influence politicians at local, national and international levels have come to be known as "lobbying."

It is clear that the processes of political lobbying can enhance the overall democratic process in several respects: politicians can  be made aware of the concerns of relevant pressure groups whose spokespersons may be able to provide useful information which might otherwise be unavailable tand which might therefore result in the passage of more effective legislation. However there are also concerns that for a variety of reasons some pressure groups wield greater power and influence than others  and that these inequalities of power and influence undermine the democratic process . These issues are addressed in the related documents on Pressure Groups and Political Power and Pressure Groups and Democracy.

There  have also been long running concerns that politicians might be open to various forms of political corruption which may have intensified as a result of the growth of public relations firms specialising in political lobbying.  In the 1990s revelations that MPs had been paid to ask parliamentary questions led to the setting up in 1994 of the Committee on Standards in Public Life chaired by Lord Justice Nolan. This Committee laid down seven key principles of public life to which all public servants should be expected to adhere; selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. In an attempt to ensure that these principles would be accepted MPs' activities were to be scrutinised by a new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges which was to report to a newly established Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards [ initially Sir Gordon Downey] who would investigate complaints from the Select Committee .

However the effectiveness of this system of regulation has been called into question by the circumstances surrounding the failure to renew the contract of Elizabeth Filkin [who had replaced Sir Gordon Downey as the second Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and was herself replaced by Sir Philip Mawer who has been replaced by John Lyon]; by revelations that former Labour Ministers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon were apparently prepared  to accept cash in exchange for political  influence, and, indirectly, as result of the MPs' parliamentary expenses scandal. Furthermore the question of cash for influence has also reared its head in the House of Lords , four Labour Peers having been involved in a cash for influence scandal.

For further information click here for BBC coverage of several recent lobbying scandals  and here and here for two recent Guardian articles on the negative aspects of political lobbying  and click here for BBC information on cash for questions in the House of Lords.   Click here , here , here  and here for recent articles in relation to the Coalition Government's changed stance on the issue of plain packaging for cigarettes.

Click here for Guardian coverage of Lobbying [about 450 articles!]

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Law [The so-called Gagging Law"]

David Cameron describes political Lobbying as a scandal waiting to happen [Daily Telegraph 8th February 2010] 

David Cameron inThe Guardian 2009

Critique of the Law [Independent 19th August 2013]

Click here for David Miller's article on the Bill in the Conversation

The Government's rationale for the introduction of this law is provided here. The Government's own Press Release states that the Bill" includes a statutory register of lobbyists, tighter regulation of the amount organisations can spend on political campaigning during election periods and new powers for certification officers to ensure that trade union records are accurate."

The Bill was repeatedly criticised by those who worried that it could restrict campaigning by organisations which believe their campaigns are not party political and the Bill  was "paused" in November 2013 to allow for consideration of these criticisms after which amendments were passed to reduce the initially proposed reduction in UK wide spending by campaigning groups and to reduce the period to 7.5 months during which the spending cap related to the  2015 General Election would apply. Nevertheless  although significant criticisms of the Bill remained but it was nevertheless passes into law on January 28th 2014.  

For further information on the Law you may consult the following sources

 

Access to Government Ministers and Civil Servants; the Executive

Brown

 

Access to Parliament

Houses of Parliament

 

 

Access to international organisations such as the UN, the IMF and the World Bank and/or  large multi-national corporations.

Access to Political Parties

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Access to Devolved Assemblies

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Access to the General Public

 

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Access to the Mass Media

paper wars

 

Access to Local Government

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Access to Courts

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Access to European Union Institutions

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 The UK political system, as has been briefly mentioned elsewhere, is dominated by the Executive of Government Ministers and senior Civil Servants who assist and advise them. Governments almost always have an overall majority in the House of Commons and can usually rely on their own MPs to support their legislative proposals which, therefore, are unlikely to be amended substantially as they pass through the House of Commons. Neither will they be changed much in the House of Lords [although amendments may be passed more easily in the Lords where party loyalty is weaker.] Therefore, pressure groups may see it as vitally important to have access to Ministers and senior Civil Servants, for it is they, rather than Parliament, who have the real power to determine the contents of government legislation. It is possible that following the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government that Parliament as a whole may play a somewhat more significant role in the legislative process but in the early stages of the Coalition it seems that Conservative and Lib Dem backbenchers respectively are prepared to support the legislative programme of the Coalition government although this may change!

Click here and here for Observer coverage of recent connections between a Conservative Health Minister and the Tobacco Lobby

Click here for Guardian coverage of Lobbying including the most recent furore over the payment for access to David Cameron.

Click here for Guardian coverage of Lobbying by the Finance industry and here for Lobbying by the City of London Corporation

Click here for Guardian coverage of links between private sector armaments companies and the Ministry of Defence via the activities of retired senior military personnel and former MoD officials . NEW OCTOBER 2012

Click here for BBC coverage of Business attempts to influence David Cameron's attitudes  to UK relations with the EU NEW January 2013

Click here for article by Seamus Milne on Corporate Power and the State NEW June 2013

Click here  and here for BBC coverage of Government denials of influence of tobacco industry on policy on cigarette packaging NEW July 2013

Click here for BBC coverage and here for Independent coverage of Government announcement of review of cigarette packet packaging policy New December 2013

Click here and here for Government decision to move toward banning of  brand adverts on cigarettes packs ...after a final consultation ! NEW April 2014

Click here  and here and here for Parliamentary vote in favour of plain packaging [March 2015] and here for legal challenges to the law which is due to come into force in May 2016 NEW September 2015 .

Click here for UK Court ruling in support of plain packaging. NEW May 2016

 However, Parliament may be able to influence the details of legislation and other aspects of government policy to some extent so pressure groups may also try to influence MPs and members of the House of Lords. Pressure groups may approach MPs either directly or indirectly through professional lobby firms. Individual MPs may assist pressure groups simply because they sympathise with the pressure group's aims, but, also, they may act as paid consultants to pressure groups or to lobbying firms operating on behalf of pressure groups. In recent years, there have been allegations that some MPs. have broken the parliamentary rules governing the extent to which they may receive payment for representing the interests of pressure groups and lobbying firms.

There are several ways in which MPs may be able to represent pressure groups inside Parliament:

a. they may try to represent pressure group opinions in meetings with Ministers and Civil Servants;

b. they may put forward sympathetic amendments either at the committee stage or the report stage of legislation.

c. they may introduce Private Members Bills sympathetic to the aims of particular pressure groups. These Private Member's Bills have only a limited chance of actually becoming law, but even if the Bills do not become law, they may still give pressure groups some useful publicity.

d. they may ask written or oral questions on pressure groups' behalf, hopefully to discover useful, relevant information.

e. they may sponsor Early Day Motions or speak in Adjournment Debates to popularise pressure group causes.

f. rather similar methods may be adopted by members of the House of Lords to help pressure groups to further their aims.

Click here for Guardian Coverage  and here  and here for BBC coverage of resignation of Patrick Mercer NEW June 1st 2013

Click here and here for Observer coverage of the implications of lobbying for democracy NEW June 2nd 2013 

Click here for BBC coverage of some similar recent political lobbying scandals NEW June 4th 2013

Click here for BBC Panorama programme on Patrick Mercer, Peers and lobbying NEW June 14th.2013  NB

Click here for Guardian coverage of the most recent development of the Patrick Mercer story  New April 2014

 

3. Pressure groups also seek to influence political parties as a whole. There has always been a close relationship between trade unions and the Labour Party in which the trade unions have contributed greatly to Labour Party finances, have sponsored Labour Party MPs and have had considerable influence over Labour Party policy although the exact amount of policy influence has certainly fluctuated over the years and may well have declined in the era of New Labour when, for example, Tony Blair promised "fairness but not favours" to the trade union movement. Business pressure groups have generally had closer links with the Conservative Party but as the Labour Party became  rather more "business friendly" one could expect  closer links between business pressure groups and the Labour Party were certainly in evidence in the 1997-2010 era of Labour Government. Some smaller pressure groups such as Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group have tried to enhance their influence in the Labour Party by winning over major trade unions to their cause in the hope of exercising an indirect influence over party policy in this way although the decline of union influence in recent years may have undermined this strategy to some extent.

 Click here and here for two recent Guardian articles on the negative aspects of political lobbying

Click here for BBC coverage of lobbying activities at the 2010 Liberal Democrat Conference suggesting that pressure group lobbyists are much more interested in Liberal Democrat policies now that the Liberal Democrats are partners with the Conservatives in the Coalition Government.

Pressure groups may concern themselves primarily with local, national or international issues and negotiation or with a combination of all three types of activity. A small local pressure group may, for example, seek to influence local council decisions on a variety of specifically local issues such as  decisions whether to license the building of new supermarket branches, to permit the opening of new music venues , to introduce speeding restrictions and/or  "speed bumps" in roads close to schools or to extent recycling arrangements. So called NIMBY [Not in my back yard] pressure groups campaign at local level to prevent the building of institutions such as prisons, asylum seekers' detention centres and drug rehabilitation units in their local areas .

Other large pressure groups such as trade unions, business pressure groups and large environmental pressure may operate at local and/or national and/or international levels. At local level trade unions and business pressure groups may negotiate with local government over proposals to expand employment in particular local areas while large environmental pressure groups may well seek to influence individual local councils' environmental policies. Most recently teachers' trade unions have supported local councils' opposition to Secretary of State Michael Gove's decisions to halt some school building programme while the Tax Payers' Alliance campaigns to discourage local councils from increasing local council tax rates.

Prior to devolution policies for Scotland and Wales were decided upon by the UK Government in Westminster and implemented by the Scottish and Welsh Offices which were headed by the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales respectively. Supporters of devolution had raised strong arguments in its favour in the 1960s and 1970s but these arguments were given further impetus in the 1980s and 1990s as it was pointed out that UK policy making was dominated by  Conservative governments which received only limited electoral support in Scotland and Wales and were perceived by many as neglecting the kind of social and economic agenda which was favoured by many Scottish and Welsh voters.

In its 1997 General Election Manifesto the Labour Party promised, if elected, to provide for referenda on Scottish and Welsh devolution and, if the results supported devolution, to establish  a Scottish Parliament with legislative and tax varying powers . The Welsh Assembly was not given tax raising powers and initially was allowed only to adapt legislation created in the Westminster Parliament but t the 2006 Government of Wales Act did give the Welsh Assembly the power to pass its own primary legislation. When these  newly devolved institutions duly came into existence in 1999 the  Devolution legislation distinguished between devolved policy areas and reserved powers: the devolved policy areas vary slightly as among Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but in each case include Economic Development, Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Education and Training, Local Government, Health, Social Work, Housing, Environment, Transport and Culture and Sport while the powers reserved for the Westminster Parliament include the Constitution of the UK, Defence and National Security, Foreign Policy including relations with the EU, Fiscal, Economic and Monetary Policy, Employment Legislation, Social Security, Transport Policy and the regulation of some areas of Health policy and  Media and Culture Policy . From these lists it is abundantly clear that pressure groups operating in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have considerable incentives to try to influence the legislative activities of the devolved institutions given the wide scope of the policies for which they now have devolved responsibilities.

Prior discussions of the nature of the proposed new devolved institutions resulted in agreements that elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly would be held via the Additional Member System  which was likely to result in coalition governments which generated expectations that such governments would operate much more on the basis of cooperation and consensus than often seemed to be the case at Westminster. Furthermore there were explicit plans to increase openness and access to government for pressure groups of all kinds as well as for individual citizens while in particular those pressure groups which felt that they had been marginalised by the Thatcher and Major UK Conservative governments hoped for greater influence with the Scottish and Welsh governments.

The Scottish Parliament provided for the greater political involvement of pressure groups and of individual citizens in the following ways.

  1. Powerful pre-legislative committees were set up to consult widely with all interested groups and individuals prior to the formulation of legislation.
  2. Individuals and groups were given the right to petition the Scottish Parliament and it has been shown that such petitions have often fed into the overall legislative process. For example one petition has led recently to major changes in Scottish policies regarding the treatment of cancer patients.
  3. A Civic Forum as introduced in which interested groups would have the opportunities to involve themselves in the discussion of current and future government policies. Apparently 240 separate bodies registered for involvement in the Civil Forum in its first year but unfortunately the Civic Forum was discontinued in 2005 . Also unfortunately I have not been able to find any additional information on the operation and discontinuation of the Civic Forum...but I will keep trying!

In general terms the introduction of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly has encouraged the growth of pressure group activity among specifically Scottish and Welsh group and also encouraged UK pressure groups to set up Scottish and Welsh offices in order to lobby the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly more effectively. It is possible also that successes of Scottish and Welsh pressure groups on issues such as the abolition of smoking in public places has encouraged English-based groups to redouble their efforts to influence the Westminster Parliament. However given the limited [albeit substantial]  competences of the devolved institutions access to UK government and to EU institutions may in some cases still be more important to Scottish and Welsh pressure groups than access to the devolved institutions and the general concerns around the inequalities of power of different pressure groups apply also in relation to their activities in Scotland and Wales ...and in Northern Ireland.

The UK joined the then EEC [European Economic Community] in 1973 and since then, as  the EEC evolved into the EU {European Union], as membership increased from an original 6 countries to 27 countries and the extensions of EU activities impacted increasingly on individual member countries, pressure groups have found it necessary to attempt to influence the outcomes of European Union decision -making processes as a means of securing their objectives and they have therefore sought influence in all of the political institutions of the EU: most especially the EU Commission, the Council of Ministers, The European Council and the European Parliament but also the European Court of Justice and The European Social Committee.

Recent years have seen the growth in all liberal democracies of political lobbying companies which seek on behalf of their clients which are often pressure groups to influence the decisions of elected politicians and it comes as no surprise to discover that there are currently around 15,000 political lobbyists working in Brussels. These lobbyists may be seen as providing a useful service on behalf of pressure groups by using their understanding of the EU political system to present the pressure groups case as effectively to the politicians most likely to be able to influence key decisions but there is also a danger that it will be the especially well financed business pressure groups which are able to afford the services of the most effective lobbying organisations with the result that decisions may often tend to be skewed in favour of business interests. However it has also been suggested that small relatively small promotional groups have sometimes enjoyed better access to European politicians than to their own domestic politicians.

Click here for a recent Guardian article suggesting that EU trade policy is heavily influenced by business interests in ways which may restrict the economic development of poorer nations.

 Pressure groups' attempts to influence the making and implementation of EU policies may take a variety of forms.

  1. It will only rarely be possible for pressure groups to influence directly the decisions of the Council of Ministers and the European Council but they may certainly seek to influence both the policy positions of national government ministers voting in the Council of Ministers and the European Council  and also to influence the precise details of the processes by which EU legislative measures are to be incorporated into UK law.
  2. However especially since the passage of the Single European Act  and the Treaties of  Maatstricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon the scope of the EU's legislative  responsibilities has increased and provisions have been introduced for the increased use of Qualified Majority Voting within the Council of Ministers and the European Council which has meant that specific national interests cannot so easily be defended within these Councils and this is one reason why pressure groups have increasingly sought influence within the European Commission.
  3. The European Commission may be regarded as essentially the Civil Service of the European Union and it is responsible for the formulation of legislative proposals which come to the Council of Ministers and the European Council for decision. It is therefore very important for pressure groups to attempt to influence the development of Commission proposals and it is also the case that the European Commission itself has been keen to solicit the views of concerned pressure groups which may have expert knowledge not otherwise available to the Commission and whose involvement may help to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the Commission's proposals and reduce the force of criticisms that the institutions of the EU suffer from the effects of a democratic deficit.
  4. National pressure  groups will sometimes try to operate independently but It is often in the interests of individual national pressure groups to unite  into so-called Euro-groups representing , say, European Trade Unions or the European-wide  interests of particular industries or the European -wide interests of particular environmental pressure groups on the grounds that European unity can increase the bargaining power of national pressure groups if such unity can be maintained.  It has been estimated that in 2007 there were approximately 1500 Euro-groups in existence including Business Europe [formerly UNICE: the Union of Industries of the European Community], ETUC [the European Trade Union Confederation], the BEUC [the Bureau of European Consumer Organisations and the EEB [European Environment Bureau] .
  5. Furthermore the European Commission has encouraged the formation of such Euro groups and is keen to maintain regular contacts with them because if particular Euro-Groups are broadly united on a particular proposal the European Commission will not have to waste time and resources bargaining with conflicting national pressure groups.
  6. The political significance of the European Parliament has also increased in recent years  and the facts that it may now request the European Commission to draw up  particular legislative proposals and that it also now regularly amends European Union legislation  has encouraged particular pressure groups to target their attention on MEPs concerned with their specific areas of interest in the hope of influencing their voting decisions or the contents of any reports which the MEPs  may submit to the European Commission. Correspondingly MEPs may be keen to consult with knowledgeable and powerful pressure groups in order to facilitate policy formulation and to reduce the likelihood of future opposition to their policy proposals.
  7. Pressure groups have also increasingly had recourse to the European Court of Justice to defend directly their interests in law. This may occur, for example when nationally based pressure groups believe that their own national governments  have failed to implement European legislation fully . Also even if they do not bring cases themselves they can publicise causes for concern which may increase the pressure on the European Commission to take national governments to the European Court  and decisions by Justices of the European Court have resulted in changes in the domestic laws of the UK so as to bring them into compliance with EU law.

 

 Direct action includes a range of activities used by pressure groups [and/or New Social Movements designed to publicise their concerns and thereby to exert indirect influence on governments [and/or other political decision -making organisations] to modify their policies. Thus direct action is actually designed in order to influence governments indirectly although in some cases it may be used also to by-pass the conventional political channels as when consumers boycott particular consumer goods or GM crops are destroyed or factory farmed animals have been released into the wild. It is generally argued that Insider pressure groups which already have access to government ministers may feel little need to engage in direct action which is therefore more likely to be used by outsider pressure groups although it is clearly the case that many Insider Groups do also make use of various forms of direct action and clear also that for various reasons the extent of direct action is on the increase.

Direct Action is usually subdivided into 3 broad categories as in the following table.

  Peaceful and Non-Violent Violent
Legal 1 Non-Existent
Illegal 2 3

 

 

Direct action has a long history as  a political activity in the UK and elsewhere: campaigns involving direct action occurred in opposition to the slave trade and  in support of the widening of the franchise and votes for women; trade unions have engaged in strike activity in support of higher wages and better working conditions ; and there have been direct action campaigns against war and the production of nuclear weapons. However for a variety of reasons pressure groups and/or new social movements have been increasingly likely to utilise methods of direct action from the 1960s onwards.

  1. Studies of UK voting behaviour indicate that there has been a general decline in party identification since the 1970s and it may be that dissatisfaction with the performances of the political parties has encouraged more people to join pressure groups in order to influence issues on which they feel strongly and , in some cases, to undertake various forms of direct action as a means of influencing the political process.
  2. Improved levels of education and greater affluence has led to greater public concern with so-called "post-materialist" issues such as the environment, world poverty, gender inequality and gay rights and increased public willingness to participate in various forms of direct action related to these issues while opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also provoked mass anti-war demonstrations especially against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.Also individuals are becoming increasingly aware of their power as consumers to influence the production of goods and services directly without the involvement of government by purchasing fair trade goods or compassionately produced meat  [if this is not an oxymoron] and dairy products or organically grown foods.
  3. However it is also true that since the 1970s there has been a major decline in trade union membership and in strike activity so that this is a form of direct action which is certainly in decline and it might be argued also that this decline in trade union membership has reduced overall working class influence within the political process while middle class influence has increased as  a result of the growth of "post-materialist" pressure groups.
  4. Some "radical" pressure groups and new social movements have increasingly come to believe that attempts to achieve political influence via the "normal insider channels" are unlikely to be effective because both Conservative and Labour governments have been strongly influenced by a neo-liberal agenda which is unsympathetic to the aims and objectives of these groups whose members have therefore increasingly come to believe that it is therefore necessary to use direct action to make government aware of the strength of public support for ,say, environmental protection or the ending of world poverty. It may be that the growth of direct action has been linked especially with the growing disillusion caused by the failure of allegedly progressive Labour governments to address these concerns although for many the New Labour approach to these issues will not have come as a surprise.
  5. There are even concerns among some relatively newly formed pressure groups such as Earth First or Plane Stupid that once radical pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have actually been heavily incorporated into the mainstream political process and have lost their radical edge as a result, a charge which Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth would of course deny.
  6. Direct actions are increasingly easy to organise in the era of the mobile phone and the internet and examples of successful direct actions in one country may increasingly be copied elsewhere.
  7. Although a great deal of direct action relates to the "liberal" political causes mentioned above disillusion with the recent Labour Governments' handling of fuel taxes and countryside issues resulted in significant exercises of direct action involving fuel depot blockades and major demonstrations organised by the Countryside Alliance. Also some significant public relations stunts were organised by the now defunct pressure group Fathers4Justice and major demonstrations have been organised by the English Defence League whose activities you might like to research for yourselves. 
  8. It is sometimes said that the need for a pressure group to appeal to public opinion may be taken as a sign of its political weakness. However, sometimes the only way forward may be to try to change public opinion as a forerunner to government action and it can be argued that public campaigns around issues such as divorce, abortion and r gay rights were instrumental in changing government policies because  governments were otherwise unwilling to act without a clear lead from public opinion. Also  some New Social Movements [especially the Anti-Globalisation Movement] are seeking massive changes to government policy involving radical reform and possibly abolition of the capitalist system as a whole and it is abundantly clear that current advanced capitalist governments will never support such programmes so that the only way forward for these movements is to continue to build mass popular support in the hope that their desired political changes will come at some point in the future.

Click here for an Observer article on Environmentalist Direct Action 

Click here for an Observer article on some complexities of environmental debates

Click here for an Observer article on a protest against the excessive use of plastic packaging and containers

Click here for BBC coverage of possible direct action by the trade union movement against the Coalition Government's public expenditure cuts.

Click here for BBC coverage of student demonstration against increased tuition fees

Click here for BBC coverage of the role of the social media in the organisation of direct action protests

Click here for BBC coverage of student demonstrations and other "riots"

Click here for several  links on the  "Occupy Movement"

Click here  and here for BBC coverage and here and here and here for Guardian coverage of Direct Action in opposition to Fracking NEW Links added August 2013

Click here for BBC coverage of the RSPB and Fracking NEW link added August 2013

Click here for "Fracking; The Great Debate" from the Independent. NEW link added August 2013

Click here for BBC coverage of Greenpeace activists arrested following protest at Russian offshore oil drilling rig. NEW link added October 2013

Click here for Observer coverage of changes to Metropolitan Police traffic management policies which may restrict rights to stage demonstrations. NEW link added February 2015

Critics of direct action have argued that infringes the principles of liberal democracy because the pressure groups which are prepared to use direct action may be able to influence public policy although they do not necessarily have the support of a majority of voters and these criticisms are seen as especially powerful when pressure groups use violent direct action in support of their aims. However supporters of direct action point out that violence is used rarely and only by a minority of supporters for direct action in general and that the use of direct action actually shows that the actual workings of the liberal democratic process illustrates the existence of a democratic deficit whereby elected politicians are failing to listen to the majority of the citizens and are influenced much more by established pressure groups representing the interests of the rich and powerful.

I hope to provide further information on this issue in other documents on the subject of Pressure Groups.

In any public campaign, the role of the mass media is crucial and some pressure groups are skilled in their use of the mass media. Media coverage may be considerable if the public campaign conforms to so- called "news values" which are discussed elsewhere. Problems for pressure groups include the difficulty of keeping any issue on the media's political agenda for any length of time and the danger of falling foul of media biases.

 Click here for a nice PowerPoint presentation on news values and then consider how the existence of such news values. may influence pressure groups' strategies with regard to the mass media

Sympathetic Mass media coverage may well increase if well known , charismatic celebrities can be encouraged to involve themselves in public campaigns on particular issues as was shown ,for example, by the  involvement of Joanna Lumley in the 2009 campaign to allow the settlement in the UK of all former Gurkha soldiers who retired before 1997 with at least 4 years service which clearly contributed to its success. Click here for some information from the BBC on this campaign.

Also the issue of mass media bias may be analysed via the consideration of the relative merits of Pluralist and Marxist theories of the mass media. Click here for a simplified outline of these theories which you may like to discuss further with your teachers.

 

Pressure groups obviously seek to influence the contents of legislation but they may also have direct recourse to the courts and/or provide evidence for other organisations to use in court cases  in the attempt to protect pressure group members' interests or to support particular causes. Examples of pressure group involvement in court procedures include the following.

  1. Businesses have financed court cases alleging that trade unions have broken industrial relations law in the pursuit of particular industrial disputes and trade unions have also gone to court to deny such allegations.
  2. Trade unions may arrange for the legal representation of workers claiming unfair dismissal  while employers may similarly for the legal defence against allegations .
  3. The RSPCA may bring its own court actions against individuals or organisations accusing them of cruelty to animals or provide evidence for local authorities intending to prosecute such individuals.
  4. The pressure group Liberty will often arrange for the defence of individuals who feel that their civil liberties have been infringed. Liberty's legal activities have increased as a result of the passage of the UK Human Rights Act. Click here to visit the Liberty Website where you can find details of its court legal initiatives.
  5. Pressure groups have also increasingly had recourse to the European Court of Justice to defend directly their interests in law. This may occur, for example when nationally based pressure groups believe that their own national governments  have failed to implement European legislatives fully. Also even if they do not bring cases themselves they can publicise causes for concern which may increase the pressure on the European Commission to take national governments to the European Court although there have also been cases when large companies have actually taken the European Commission to the European Court!    

In this document I have provided an introduction to the analysis of pressure groups. Further information is currently available in two further documents on the site and I hope to upload additional information in the not too distant future.

 

 

Some  Introductory Questions on Pressure Groups.

 

  1. Define a pressure group
  2. Explain two ways in which pressure groups differ from political parties.
  3. Name three sectional pressure groups and three promotional pressure groups.
  4. Explain the differences between Insider Pressure Groups and Outsider Pressure Groups.
  5. Name three Insider Groups and three Outsider Groups.
  6. List seven possible methods which pressure groups may seek to exert political influence.
  7. Choose any three of the above seven methods and explain them in more detail.
  8. What is direct action and why has the extent of direct action by pressure groups increased in recent years

 

And finally!

In the next two documents you can find information on Pressure Group power and Pressure Groups and Democracy but if you have already come so far write down your thoughts on the following two questions.

   9. Why are some pressure groups more powerful than others?

   10. In what ways does the existence of pressure groups strengthen or weaken the democratic process?