Pressure Groups and Lobbying Organisations: Who do they protect?

These organisations are here to protect and represent people’s specific interests to Government, in a sense, becoming the loudspeaker to individual concerns which they want addressed. They encourage debate, attention and action. Matei Sacerdoteanu questions whether these aims truly promote pluralism, the coexistence of different values, in our society. 

By Matei Sacerdoteanu

The existence of pressure groups leads to other voices being side-lined and silenced.
(Photo: SGS Politics)

When people hear the words “pressure group”, they think of a nice alternative to political parties that further promotes pluralism in our democracy with numerous organised groups all having some political leverage in the decisions making process of the country. It assumes there is a lack of elite groups who would otherwise dominate the political forum with their demands. Thus, pressure groups are viewed as an essential part of promoting a pluralist democracy.

How true is this really?

We can all say that all pressure groups are equal and thus promote pluralism. However, some pressure groups are favoured by the government, as they may be beneficial to that government when election time comes. Take ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) for example; they are an insider group and have much more influence than other groups like Forest, all because they create a voter friendly image for the government. This is one of the main places in which we can truly see pressure groups creating the opposite of a pluralist democracy and giving rise to elitism.

Also, some pressure groups, due to their economic status, actually have much more power than other, less wealthy ones. This is mainly because they can afford to advertise themselves a lot more and buy the support of the government; money always speaks loudest. Compare, for example, a group like the RSPCA, which is very influential with the financial position it holds and thus can inspire a lot more change than a less financially successful group like Fathers 4 Justice could. This is proof that pressure groups can lead to elitism and leave many smaller ones without a say in the matter.

Yes, I have placed some emphasis on the negatives, because most people simply don’t consider them. Nonetheless, there are indeed ways that pressure groups do promote a pluralist democracy. They aren’t all bad and I personally support quite a few pressure groups, with which I have highly agreed.

The main way they promote a pluralist democracy is actually quite straight forward. Opposing pressure groups exist and they all compete in an open forum for the attention and support of the public. Once again we can use ASH and Forest as examples; ASH campaign to get smoking banned in all public and enclosed spaces, while Forest mainly campaign to protect the rights of smokers to smoke in public areas such as parks and (wouldn’t you have guessed it) forests. This is highly pluralist; it is good display of how completely opposing views are allowed to thrive and be equally campaigned for by our pressure groups.
Pressure groups give the
public a say on issues that
matter to them.
(Photo: Brand Culture)

Finally pressure groups provide the public one very important thing that most pluralist democracies would simply not exist without: choice. Pressure groups widen public access to power and decision making, giving citizens another option instead of having to go and join a political party to make their voice heard. For example, if people don’t agree with how any of the political parties handle the environment, they can go and join Greenpeace, which will give them another avenue of making their democratic ideals heard, creating a very pluralist democracy and giving us all an open political forum for our country.

However, one question does remain; how influential are pressure groups on our government really?

Well they can be very influential in changing the works of our government and managing to sway politicians, but that all depends on their status. Insider groups (pressure groups that operate inside the decision-making process of Parliament) have a much more impactful say on how policy is made. Take for example the British Medical Association; they are an insider group and have strong links within Parliament, which means they can lobby for members to try and change policy or not pass policy deemed harmful to the doctors and nurses around the country that the BMA represents.

This is actually, also a symbol of elitism in pressure groups. Certain pressure groups which enhance the image of the government or just represent individuals important to the government can easily get a more powerful voice in how the country should change.

Yet there are also pressure groups that the government does not want to give any credit or associate with and thus, they have a much less powerful platform on which to send their message. Greenpeace are an outsider group, they have had to often engage in civil disobedience to be heard and even then the government hasn’t done what they have asked for in most cases; these are problems the BMA would never have to face.

Last but not least, there are also other conditions. The party in power directly affects which pressure groups have influence. Back when Margaret Thatcher was PM, the government weakened unions (which also class as pressure groups) to the point of leaving them absolutely powerless.

We can safely say that yes, pressure groups are for the most part instrumental in increasing pluralism in our country and giving more people a way to speak their mind and have their say. However, I want us all to not forget that even between pressure groups. elitism can arise and it is the job of us all to try and create a more equal society where elitism is as close to non-existent as it can get. So feel free to support any pressure group you agree with if you feel like the political parties are misrepresenting an issue, yet keep an open mind and make sure the group you are supporting isn’t making it harder for someone elsewhere to have their voice heard.
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