This short essay was originally written for an AS exam question.
Pressure groups, are single interest groups that lobby the government and the public on the area in which they specialise. Some people argue, that these groups play a detrimental role in British democracy, damaging the way in which our country is run. I shall be looking at both this side, and the opposing side of the argument.
The first proposition for the argument is the that pressure groups misrepresent the public. Insider groups, that are consulted by the government when they require specialist knowledge due to the nature of their generalist civil service, have the ability to influence policy at a very early stage, for example the NFU is currently helping with the impacts of flooding on agriculture. This may be seen as undemocratic as they have a distinct head-start over outsider groups. Groups can also be seen as egotropic and selfish, such as Unite and the tube strikes, that affected the daily routine of thousands in London. Just like the government, groups don’t necessarily represent all of their members, for instance Unite only had a 40% turnout for their vote for tube strikes. This internal lack of representation reflect that in modern society, and can thus be seen that pressure groups do not fulfil their aims to represent the people on certain issues.
A major problem can be seen with business. It is often clear that business groups get listened to by the government more often this can be seen as a result of the economic significance in which these powerful companies sustain, and the need for economic success for the government, which in turn often decides whether or not they are re-elected. In addition to this, business groups have the money to lobby the government, whereas other groups may not be so wealthy, which is a misrepresentation purely down to the wealth of a group of people, this appears very undemocratic. Furthermore, this lobbying and deals are often made behind closed doors. A ‘hushed’ example of big business lobbying like this has surfaced very recently, in which it has been revealed that a group called the Specialist Healthcare Alliance set up by the NHS is entirely funded by pharmaceutical companies, and is chaired by a lobbyist installed by them, this has been seen as giving them large influence on NHS policy. This would appear to be very unhealthy for British democracy, and is an example of money buying influence. An additional argument that pressure groups are harmful for British politics is often seen in the methods that they adopt. Some use lawless methods in order to put across their point, for instance the TUS, that rioted in a vandalised the Millbrook Centre (Conservative HQ) in 2010 over tuition fees. This is unlawful and unfair on others: it wastes police time who have to be drafted in to control the riots, when they could potentially be doing other serious work. This is seen as unjustified violence, is completely against what democracy stands for. In addition, methods such as that of the Animal Liberation Movement, who sent bomb-letters to the scientists which were exploding in the hands of “cruel demons which are testing medicines on animals” in order to prevent the building of a laboratory in Cambridge appear to undermine democracy, and pose a threat to system.
Finally, it can be argued that the groups are do not educate effectively as they are bias towards their point of view. Groups often give advice to the government in favour of their cause, such as the NFU blaming the recent floods on a lack of dredging, groups can be seen as skewing an argument from their direction, which misinforms either the public or the government. The fact that there is no neutral stance poses a threat to British politics as both sides of an argument aren’t always equally voiced. This is also manifest in the flamboyant EDL protests, that scares people from Islam unfairly, when they are really just a group of paranoid fascists.
On the other hand, people may argue that pressure groups are a positive aspect of British politics, and actually add to the wealth and colour of our democracy. It can be argued, that pressure groups are actually successful in representing the electorate. Due to the nature of a party system, the two main parties, the Tories and Labour, have to broaden their policy to gain the vote of as many people as possible. This means pressure groups fill the gaps where people feel neither party represent them. People join pressure groups to fine tune their beliefs dues to an intensity of feel. This is evident under the coalition government, as nobody voted for the Coalition Agreement, people may have decided to turn to a pressure group in order to be represented on a belief the government would not represent them on. This can be seen, as the RSPB has more members than all three main political parties combined, which shows that people feel these groups are very relevant.
As touched on earlier, insider groups are often used by the government when specialist information and knowledge that the civil service do not possess is required. Pressure groups can be seen as having a positive educative role in informing, and assisting the government on policy, as well as pointing out flaws in a particular policy that could have unintended consequences. This means pressure groups can help make government make good quality policy, and well informed decisions, which would seem to assist British politics and its wealth. Similarly, the groups can be seen as a form of scrutiny for the government, keeping them in check, for instance the Taxpayers Alliance uncovering details on MPs expenses. This is often successful as they can attract media attention, bring such things to the public.
A final way in which pressure groups add to the health of British politics is the fact that they can mobilise the public, raising their interest in a certain issue, and encouraging political participation. This results in a well-informed public that can make good judgements issues, meaning the government must keep on their toes, and forcing them to have ongoing engagement with the electorate rather than just every five years. Groups are an alternative method of engaging the public in politics, (which has proved difficult in recent times) and this can be seen again by the RSPBs large membership. Pressure groups are a different vessel for the public to get involved in politics, which means it remains relevant.
To conclude, I think that pressure groups are good for British politics, as they are an effective form of scrutiny, and holding the executive accountable for their actions. I also think insider groups are key to making policy decisions, and if we did not have them assisting the government, we would have plenty more ineffective, or even detrimental policies that would effective the public's welfare. However, I do have concern for the involvement of big business in lobbying the government, especially behind close doors, using their money and power for influence, as his is unfair and unjust on other groups and less wealthy individuals.