Another democratic feature of pressure groups is the way in which they collectively represent most, if not all, members of the public. In the vast majority of our activities there probably exists a group who is seeking to promote favourable legislation regarding such activities. For example most people will have been a motorist, or a holidaymaker, or a hospital patient or a student at one point in their lifetime. All such categories have pressure groups who are representing, even if passively, members of the public.
To the contrary, an undemocratic feature of pressure groups is how their influence can rely on financial clout rather than the proportion of public support. This theory applies to many of the protective groups, whom have greater capital than many well supported cause groups. An example is Bernie Ecclestone who, it must be noted, is not a pressure group in the traditional sense of the term. He used his connections with Tony Blair to arrange a meeting in which the prime minister agreed to extend the deadline for the removal of tobacco advertising in formula one racing by five years. Supposedly this coincidently coincided with Mr. Ecclestone making a generous £1 million donation to the Labour party.
Pressure groups provide an opportunity for political participation. This is certainly a democratic attribute of pressure groups. Passive citizenry is looked upon as a danger to democracy, as it allows the government to become more dictatorial in the view that its power is unlikely to be challenged by citizens who take little part in political activism. As long as pressure groups exist to provide opposition and advice to the government, they will continue to promote democracy in this way.
Conversely and undemocratically, power held by pressure groups can depend on the size of membership. Initially, this may seem more of a democratic factor rather than an undemocratic feature; surely if a group has large membership it represents more of public opinion than one which has few members. An example which proves the contrary to be true is that of Anti-vivisection. The anti-vivisection group has a reasonably large membership, yet the vast majority of the public support animal testing for medical purposes. In fact, up until 2005 no pressure group which opposed the views of anti-vivisection even existed. If we were to go purely by the membership of these groups prior to 2005, the data would indicate that 100% of the public supported anti-vivisection. Another example is that of the country alliance, who put 300,000 members on the streets in 2003 to protest regarding the ban on fox hunting. This panicked the government into watering down the hunting bill. However, the large number who attended the demonstration did not reflect public opinion, which strongly favoured a full ban.
Pressure groups allow for political campaign and participation between elections. If the party in power supports a particular bill which you disagree with and, as it’s not election time you are unable to vote a different party into power, you as a citizen in a pluralist society can support a pressure group which opposes this bill. This way your views as a citizen are still having a small but significant impact despite not being able to vote. An example, is the group Forest who opposed the bill banning smoking in public places, all be it unsuccessfully.
On the other hand, abrupt waves of public emotion can propel a topic into the limelight, perhaps without rational reason. This obviously obstructs democracy rather than promoting it. An example is the Snowdrop campaign, which was successful in lobbying the government into banning citizens keeping hand guns. However, the group was only successful following the fallout of the Dunblane school massacre. Resultantly, the legislation was rushed and poorly written and therefore has done little to reduce gun crime.
In conclusion, I believe there are several ways in which pressure groups undermine democracy. However, I agree with the pluralist view that allowing a wide range of beliefs and ideologies to flourish promotes democracy, mainly by educating the public into making informed judgements.