pressure groups


pressure groups
   Pressure groups are organizations whose members act collectively to affect public policy in order to promote a common interest. They are usually distinguishable from political parties in that they do not wish to govern. They may be divided into interest groups, which represent the concerns of their members—examples include trade unions and professional bodies—and cause groups, whose members share common attitudes towards a specific issue which will generally benefit society or a section of the community. These are divided between insider groups, which are viewed as legitimate by government and are consulted on a regular basis, and outsider groups who are excluded from access to the decision-making process. NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) groups also exist to tackle local issues. Pressure groups now adopt a professional approach, often employing former politicians or civil servants with knowledge of the corridors of power. The most successful groups influence policy through the executive, and the concentration of power in the hands of the executive under the Thatcher administration has made this even more important. Pressure groups also work through parliament. Trade unions achieve this by sponsoring Labour MPs and select committees are also lobbied. Large pressure groups are also increasingly lobbying at European level. Some pressure groups use public campaigns, but this is usually interpreted as a last resort for outsider groups such as CND. Nevertheless, this approach can occasionally succeed, as with the Anti Poll Tax Federation whose wellsupported demonstrations contributed to the community charge being scrapped (see poll tax). Until the 1980s, government would consult pressure groups before legislation and the trade unions and the CBI enjoyed a special relationship with the executive on corporatist bodies. Conflict increased with the unions in the 1970s, but the Thatcher governments were explicitly hostile to pressure groups. Yet pressure group activity continued to rise, especially in groups concerned with issues not traditionally dealt with by the main political parties. Consultation was very limited with the advent of conviction politics, even when important reforms were to be introduced. The New Right consider pressure groups to be undemocratic organizations which undermine legitimate government. This attitude contrasts with the onenation Conservative view of democracy, which stresses governing by consent, and with pluralists who contend that pressure groups are at the heart of the democratic process as they encourage participation in politics.
   Further reading
    Baggott, R. (1995) Pressure Groups Today, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
   COLIN WILLIAMS

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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