To what extent have pressure groups changed in recent years?
A pressure group is an organised group that seeks to influence government policy, public opinions or protect or advance a particular cause or interest. Groups may promote a specific issue and raise it up the political agenda, represent a particular section in society or they may have more general political and ideological objectives in mind when they campaign. In this essay I am going to analyse the significant changes in the nature and activities of pressure groups that have occurred in recent years and use examples accordingly.
In recent times, the importance of the role of pressure groups has been increasing and is likely to continue to do so. A reason for this is the increasing participation in pressure group politics. Membership of pressure groups has been growing substantially whereas in contrast, membership of political parties has been declining. Therefore, this suggests that the general interest in politics has not decreased but the nature of interest and participation is rapidly changing as more people are becoming frustrated with the political parties and so they are turning to pressure groups that campaign for specific issues or causes.
An example of this may be the Liberal Democrats Party which has lost support from some people because of its changing views relating to civil liberties. In order to be able to govern the country, the Liberal Democrats like all the other main political parties have had to adapt their policies and viewpoints such as their standpoint on civil liberties in order to gain approval and support of the public. In doing this, they have lost support of some people who believe that liberties and freedoms take precedence over everything else in a healthy and well-run society.
These individuals have thus turned to pressure groups such as Liberty because they believe that this group represents the public's best interests in terms of liberties and that they are far superior to the political parties in implementing legislation protecting civil liberties. Overall, participation is a huge change in modern pressure groups as more and more people have shifted their political awareness away from party politics in favour of specific political issues such as civil liberties. Clearly, pressure groups provide a more appropriate vehicle for such interest than in contrast to parties.
Another huge change seen in pressure groups is the fact that there are many more 'access points' now than compared to previous times. Before, it used to be the case that pressure groups concentrated the vast majority of their efforts and time on governmental institutions such as Parliament or on significant political figures such as ministers. But policy-making in modern day Britain has completely evolved as it has become spread over a much wider range of institutions such as the European Union.
The growing influence and jurisdiction of the European Union is perhaps the most obvious example of the increasing amount of access points available to pressure groups. Pressure groups now direct most of their activities to the European Commissions, these are a number of committees that are designed to develop policies. Therefore pressure groups seeking to influence decision-making are inclined to send increasing numbers of representatives to the European Parliament and its policy-making committees.
Interestingly, in 2010 there were more than 4400 pressure group representatives attached to the European Parliament. Secondly, pressure groups have understood and realised that they might have more success if they unite with their European counterparts to exert effective pressure on decision-making committees. This has resulted in the development of a increasing number of 'federated' groups in Europe.
This essentially means that different pressure groups that have similar or exactly the same views on particular issues have amalgamated into one European-wide institution.
A few examples of this type of affiliation that has occurred in recent years are the European Small Business Alliance which clearly protects the best interests of small businesses throughout Europe, The association of Commercial Television in Europe which is a trade association representing the interests of the commercial broadcasting sector in Europe and finally the European Association for the Defence of Human Rights which gathers together leagues and associations defending Human Rights in European Union countries.
All these groups aim to influence the institutions by taking positions and promoting their respective issues and interests.
The activities of pressure groups has also changed along with everything else happening around them. Many groups now feel that they not excluded from having direct access to the attention of policy and decision makers. It used to be the case that only insider pressure groups had this luxury of being able to communicate effectively with government institutions as they were generally felt to be more responsible in their demands and also they had developed long-term links with certain political parties and Parliament.
However, many pressure groups believe that they can start to exert more pressure on government by mobilising public opinion than by pursuing direct inks with decision makers. For example, the Countryside Alliance has found that direct action can be far more beneficial in comparison to being listened to by Parliament. In this case, it is not all the members of the group but a select minority, this is not to say that it is not a substantial amount.
These individuals that have formed to use direct action instead of government links are called the Countryside Action Network. They remain members of the original Alliance but describe it as being ineffective and inefficient. This group is determined to re-claim direct action as a tactic and it feels the need to do this because the Alliance tactics are too 'soft.'
This said action group believes that the government need to be shown that by having power, it should not discriminate against minority groups such as people living the countryside. One method that they use is to block roads around the UK on one particular day to cause as much disturbance and government annoyance as possible in order to ultimately get more influence and popularity from the public. Direct action, when properly organised and well supported by the public, is increasingly growing massively in importance.
Digital democracy is also a hugely significant factor in why pressure groups have experienced change in recent years. Technology is always improving and so pressure groups can accordingly develop their methods and strategies to help them benefit as much as possible by using technological advancements such as the internet. Pressure groups now rely heavily on the internet for publicity, gaining support and placing pressure on decision makers.
Some useful websites on the internet include The Downing Street e-petitions site which gives direct access to the centre of power and instructs people on how they can make a difference in the political arena. The internet also provides easier ways to initiate and organise political campaigns quickly and efficiently.
This can be done by means of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter where people can communicate and express their views on many things including politics and those that share similar views can subsequently organise events such as political marches and so on. In 2012, Manchester United central defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted his opposition to the NHS Reform Bill. He gained huge support and followers on the website as more people got involved in this political debate.
This example does not really illustrate how pressure groups have been affected by technological changes but it exhibits how the internet can be used to greatly mobilise public opinion as shown by the aftermath of the action Ferdinand took. Overall, all pressure groups, both interest and promotional, both insider and outsider, use the internet to reinforce their activities and to essentially give people a much better idea of what they stand for.
In conclusion, pressure groups have drastically changed in recent years in relation to their nature and their methods due to the changing world surrounding them. There are large numbers of non-voters and apparently disillusioned non-participants that have shifted their interest away from political parties and more into the realm of pressure group politics.
This is because of the general frustration caused by many things occurring currently in society such as the economic turmoil and how the political parties governing the country haven't taken proper measures to correct this disaster. Many people feel that pressure groups therefore are a credit to democracy as they allow for causes and issues to be recognised and particularly vulnerable sections of society to be represented in a meaningful manner.
The increasing amount of access point is also a significant reason the change seen in pressure groups. Groups now have many ore access point to the decision-making institutions than ever before. Now they can spread their efforts, time, money and other resources around much more to exert more pressure on decision-makers and to be influential to as much of the public as possible when it comes to specific issues. Different methods used by pressure groups has also seen great change. Increases in the use of direct action and the rise in digital democracy effectively contribute to the willingness of people to take positive action in pursuit of a cause in which they feel passionate about.
As representative institutions-especially parties and Parliament-have become increasingly marginalised and impotent, there has been a renewed interest in the influence of direct action. In addition, the changes in the world surrounding pressure groups has forced them to respond by using technological advances to great effect in order to get many people involved and even introduce political ideas to individuals new to the political scene.