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AS and A Level: Pressure Groups
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Five things you should know when studying pressure groups
What is a pressure group?
A pressure group is an organised group in which members hold similar beliefs or interests and actively pursue ways to influence government.
Why are pressure groups different to political parties?
Unlike political parties, which seek to win control of the government, pressure groups are interested in influencing those who determine policy.
What is lobbying?
Lobbying is a method used by pressure groups to attempt to influence members of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of government. The term today often refers to the work of private companies known as lobbyists who are employed by organisations to represent their views by arranging meetings, organising protests or providing briefing material. Lobbyists have significant power in the USA and are increasing their power in the UK.
Why has the number of pressure groups increased?
The number of pressure groups has grown as governments have expanded, populations have increased, diversity has become the norm, technology has advanced, and concern for new issues has developed.
Pressure group activity takes place on a daily basis, from union action to media stunts, and examples are an essential part of any essay on the subject. Real life examples must be used to develop ideas and highlight how things work in real life.
NOTE: Be careful not to just list examples.
Facts you need to know when answering UK pressure group questions
Categorising pressure groups in the UK
Pressure groups are categorised into sectional (interest) groups representing the interests of a section of society or promotional (cause) groups interested in promoting a specific cause. They are also categorised by their relationship with government. Insider groups work closely with the government whereas outsider groups tend to have limited contact.
Pressure groups and democracy
Some argue that pressure groups enhance democracy in the UK but others question this idea. The pluralist and elitist theories on how pressure groups impact democracy in the UK are important. Do pressure groups really aid participation, representation and education in the UK?
Factors that influence success/power
Different factors (variables) such as the status, wealth, leadership or aim of a group can impact the success/power that it has. It is important to understand how these factors affect pressure groups.
An access point is a formal part of a government structure that is accessible to group influence. The most obvious access points in the UK are the Executive (Government/Government Departments), the Legislature (Parliament) and the public/media. Other access points include the courts, local government, devolved assemblies and the European Commission and Parliament.
Pressure groups often use a variety of methods such as strikes, blockades, media campaigns, stunts, letter writing, petitions and lobbying to try to influence people and gain attention.
However, an outsider group is one that operates outside the government, they have no special links with them but they still seek to influence decision makers by (usually) mobilising public opinion, an example would be Fathers 4 justice. They're generally not involved in the Law Making process and so don't have a chance to influence legislation. This may be due to previous protests or demonstrations which have made their relationship with the government hostile. Generally, Insider groups would be more successful that outsider groups because of the influences that they do hold and the power they have to change the decisions made by the government.
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General elections are too infrequent to be the sole means to influence policy. Once every 4-5 years is an inadequate public input and does not make the political system very democratic. However General Elections are not the be all and end all of the public's right to influence govt. This is where pressure groups come into play they seek to influence government throughout the term in office until their cause is met making the system more democratic. On top of this a limited choice exists in reality as to who should govern the country as the Labour and Conservative parties dominate politics in England.
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