As the number of political parties has fallen, that of pressure groups has increased. In the voluntary sector alone, one third of the population is involved in regular work for organisations, several of which can be described as a pressure group. They are organised groups that don’t put up candidates for election, but seek to influence government policy or legislation. These organisations are also described as interest groups, lobby groups, or protest groups. The term pressure group can inadvertently be interpreted as groups that use actual pressure to achieve their aims.
The term pressure group does not clearly distinguish between the groups that fall under the term. There is a huge range of pressure groups, covering politics, business, employment, ethnic minorities, health, defence, religion, foreign relations, animal welfare, social welfare, environment, consumers. The numbers of members from these groups can range from a million members to those with a dozen.
One example is the Countryside Alliance which has 105,000 full members plus 250,000 associate members through affiliated clubs and societies. Coxall, Lynton & Leach (2003, p136) argues that pressure groups are vital institutions in our modern democratic society. In the 1970s and 1980s there was proliferation of pressure groups particularly connected with environmental issues, ranging from global pollution problems to protecting particular animals.
There are key characteristics that classify pressure groups. The sectional/cause division is the first step in categorizing the groups.
Sectional groups represent the interests of a precise section of society, existing to further the interests of people as engaged in certain occupations. Members of sectional pressure groups are directly and personally concerned with the outcome that the group is fighting for, as they stand to gain professionally and economically. The British Medical Association (BMA), and the Law Society are examples of this. Membership is usually restricted to lawyers and doctors for example.
Cause groups, however, promote a shared belief or view usually about a single public issue. This form of group is also known as attitude, ideological or preference groups. Examples of these include Greenpeace, the National Trust, and Amnesty International. These cause groups seem to have become a permanent part of British life, many other groups tend to be of a more temporary nature than sectional groups. The members are volunteers and the campaigns tend to last for a few months or years before the group disbands. This makes calculating the number of cause groups in the United Kingdom difficult.
The main difference between the two groups is that sectional groups seek to protect the interests of its members whereas the aim of the cause group is to advance the public welfare as perceived by its members. Grant (1994, p12) states, “Sectional groups, represent a section of the community Their function is to look after the common interests of that section and their membership is normally restricted to that section.’ Cause groups, represent some belief or principle. . . They seek to act in the interests of that cause.”
Arguably the nature of the demands made by the two groups differs. Sectional groups are more likely to advance limited, specific goals, which are generally concurrent with society’s values and often deal with highly technical issues. Cause groups often have fewer resources at their disposal than sectional groups in terms of unpaid staff and finance.
Membership can be large, by 1994 Greenpeace had 143,000 members in the UK and more than one million in America with an international turnover of £45 million. Most cause groups have smaller membership, the drawbacks of poorly paid staff can to some extent be offset by their commitment to the cause, backed up by the willingness of members to work for the organisation free of charge. Amnesty International members are expected to “to contribute funds but also work consistently both individually and in a group” (Ennals 1982, p68).
Pressure groups are also grouped based upon their strategies, and how opposed the government is to those policies and its resulting status. This is known as, “the insider group/outsider group division and its various subdivisions” (Grant 1978, 1984). Insider groups are seen to be acceptable and confer with government on a regular basis.
Outsider groups either do not wish to develop a consultative relationship with government officials. It is certain that most insider groups are sectional groups but not all sectional groups will be insiders. Cause groups can gain insider status. This is exemplified by the Howard League for Penal Reform being treated as an insider group, in relation to the Radical Alternatives to Prison.
Wyn Grant categorises the insider/outsider into three subdivisions.
High profile: prepared to reinforce contacts with government by use of media Low profile: focuses on the behind the scenes contact with government Prisoner groups: difficult to break away from insider relationship due to financial backing by government or public sector.
Potential insider: those seeking insider status yet to achieve it Outsiders by necessity: wish to be insiders but don’t have political skills Ideological outsiders: objectives that cannot be achieved within normal political system
Most groups tend to steer toward an insider strategy due to the potential gains available. Greenpeace has, “devoted more resources to research, to report-writing and to conventional lobbying techniques .These changes have in turn annoyed some of the direct action traditionalists, who fear loss of purity and effectiveness” (Edwards 1988, p17).
There is an underlying link between the existence of the pressure groups and the very survival of a democratic government. Democracy allows for the continuance of pressure groups, but it is argued that these groups are a factor behind the quality of the decision making process.
The Countryside Alliance is an example of a pressure group that fall between being a cause group and a sectional group. Their purpose is to campaign for the countryside, country sports and the rural way of life, yet they represent a precise section of society. When labour came to power in 1997, links with the trade unions was at an all time low. This in turn invited the rural interest and the main focus became the anti-foxhunting bill which had received a large majority at its initial reading.
The Countryside Alliance was set up just before the general election of 1997 from an amalgam of the British Field Sports Association (BFSA), the Countryside Business Group (CBG) and the Countryside Movementall of which are intimately connected and well-funded. The march in spring 1998 was expressed he social and political interests of precisely those whom the Tory press was at pains to deny were in chargeBritain’s squirearchy
. Almost a million pounds was spent on 37 specially chartered trains, 2,500 coaches and the closure of 22 major roads. Agriculture only employs around two percent of the British population, with many smaller farmers having been driven into bankruptcy, and one in three agricultural jobs lost since 1971.
Those directly reliant on farming are therefore a minority even amongst Britain’s 8-10 million-strong rural population. More generally, rural areas are characterized by obscene social differences between the wealthy elite who commute to the city from their million-pound-plus homes and local people who can find only the lowest paid work. Last year countryside tourism, which employs around 38,000, is thought to have lost around £8 billion in revenue due to the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Public transport is almost non-existent93 percent of villages have no railway and 71 percent lack any bus service. Some 80 percent of villages have no doctor and over 50 percent have no school, with village schools being closed at a rate of six per year. With an estimated 80,000 homes needed in the countryside, the homeless rate in some areas has risen 13 percent in the last five years. Three thousand village post offices are shutting down every year. Over the last decade 4,000 rural bank branches have closed. Pubs are closing at the rate of six per week. Four out of five rural parishes no longer have a shop. T
he Alliance aimed to pressure the government not to make Parliamentary time for the bill, to give more aid to the BSE crisis, the ban on British beef on the bone sales, cheap meat imports, further restrictions on shooting, the erosion of rural schools. The alliance felt that they as a minority were being held back in their way of life by the majority. They felt that the hunting ban would, “destroy large numbers of jobs in an already imperiled countryside (Coxall, Robins, and Leach 2004 p141).
Labour responded with a compromise of more financial help for beef farmers, soft-pedaling with a third-way option to allow controlled fox hunting, and softening its positioning on the right to roam. Landowners were given a two year period to reach a voluntary agreement, creating more access to the open countryside. The Liberty and Livelihood march in September 2002, was the largest demonstration in over a century with 400,000 people taking part.
The march surrounded the central cause on the hunting ban with support from afar as America and Thailand but also more fundamental threats to the countryside. The alliance believed that Government’s misunderstanding of the epidemic’s £5 billion impact on rural tourism was triggered more by concerns that the crisis would overshadow Labour’s hopes for the general election than by an understanding of the effects of the epidemic on farming and rural businesses.
There was also a leading contingentfrom the National Foot and Mouth Group, an alliance of farmers, vets, scientists and others who believe that the contiguous cull that led to the slaughter of more than 10 million animals was unethical, illegal and based on unsound science.
The group were also concerned that many of the statistics cited by the inquiries were incorrect calling for independent critical analysis of the epidemiological data. Movements such as the countryside alliance have cited a new social movement. The alliance rallied 400,000 supporters to descend upon London and had support across the globe.
The alliance is not a follower of the status quo; they want to keep to their traditional ways. “The arguments and evidence produced by these competing groups improve the quality of public debate and ensure that the eventual decision is both informed and generally reflects the balance of opinion” ( Wali Aslam, Politics, Government and Communication 2005, p90).
The alliance communicates with its members through its website, http://www.countryside-alliance.org, and holds regional meetings. The alliance issues news releases on any issue or activity relating to the rural communities. The website encourages its members and supporters to visit their MP, write to their MP, and write to the local paper.
The alliance’s political strategy team gathers political intelligence to formulate their political strategy. The Policy team has an on-going programme of lobbying politicians on a whole range of rural issues including sending written briefs on bills at each stage, holding meetings with individual MPs, exhibiting at each political party conference. This is executed in military style, there is an icon to get details on your local MP and there are contact details for the Political Department.