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Under what conditions can interest group activity become a threat to democratic accountability?

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Introduction

Under what conditions can interest group activity become a threat to democratic accountability? To answer this question we must first understand what a pressure group is and what one does. Following this we will examine the activities of pressure groups as they attempt to influence the policymaking process in five different areas: - public opinion, civil servants, ministers, Parliament and political parties. Whilst examining this we will also be considering the implications this has for notions of democratic accountability. In What is Politics, Bernard and Tom Crick define politics as "the study of conflicts of interests and values that affect all society and how they can be conciliated" . This defines politics as the ideal of conflict resolution within and between societies. Its sets an ideal that fair and just forms of compromise are more desirable than resorting to force, and sets an ideal for political systems to aspire to, even if they are too often restrained by pragmatic considerations. This conception of politics is closely related to the idea of pluralism . This term describes society as a multitude of competing groups that represent different social aspirations. These groups are said to compete, on what is meant to be a metaphorical level democratic playing field, for power within society. ...read more.

Middle

The director of Child Poverty Action Group had alluded to how influential a favorable public opinion could be when he stated, "coverage in the media is our main strategy" . An informed and interested public can have positive effects on notions of accountability. However, any group's financial predicament will have consequences on a group's ability to represent its cause in the public eye. Therefore the more wealthy groups will have a stronger voice in the public arena, as they will be able to employ the use of the advertising industry to reach the nations subconscious. For example, in the early 1990s the nuclear industry was investing in improving it's public image, transforming their infamous Windscale site into Sellafield, and using costly TV commercials to entice the public on guided tours of the redeveloped site . Groups in less fortunate positions will be resigned to resorting to less glamorous means such as marches, demonstrations and occasionally violent confrontations to attract public opinion. These efforts at promoting causes are generally forced to the margins due to competition with other events in the headlines, and in the case of any violent protests, any publicity gleaned from such an incident could only feasibly be perceived in a negative light. ...read more.

Conclusion

For instance, a group such as Shelter or Age Concern would expect more from a socialist party whilst business interests would except more from a party from the new right. More over, the pairing of capital and labour with the two parties would suggest a distinct advantage in funding for the Conservative party. However, the parties will seek to court interest groups by tailoring their manifestos to their needs, just as Labour danced to the tune of business interests in the 1990s . In conclusion, the success of any campaign, or a groups ability to hold the government accountable depends on a group's status as 'insider' or 'outsider', and the amount of financial funding it has at its disposal. This does not reflect the notion of a metaphorical level playing field that pluralists try to portray democracy to be. As insider status is not guaranteed, groups need to rely on financial backing and therefore may resort to attract backing from a sympathetic Capitalist establishment. Therefore, the right to promote an interest in Britain, and the ability to hold the government accountable, does not come without any restrictions of finance or social position. As Tony Benn had noted, "information is the oxygen of democracy", therefore those who have the most influence over the supply of information can influence the result of any political problems by structuring perceptions. ...read more.

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