Do pressure groups help democracy, or do they hinder it?
Category : Democracy
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It has been noted that society is considered as a complex of competing groups and interests, and none of these groups are predominant all of the time (In the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, there exist the so-called pressure groups which have been frequently condemned as a detrimental aspect in the federal government. A pressure group is referred to as any group which tries to influence a specific political decision (Baumgartner & Leech 1998).
Various scholars emphasize different aspects of group activities and functions which depend on their needs and perspectives. In general, it has been held that pressure groups give a mechanism through which citizens who have a shared interest or a shared attitude can come together and direct their collective resources into political action (Thomas & Rienner, 2001). According to Zariski (1992) pressure groups are formal institutions which seek to influence public provisions policies in democratic polities and discords from the cohesion, shared attitudes or representation elements. On the other hand, pressure groups are considered as policy participant to better designate the notion of policy influencing institutions (Jordan & Maloney, 1997).
In the UK, more individuals are now joining are active in pressure groups than are members of political parties. Two of the best known pressure groups in the nation include Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) and Child Poverty Action group. These two pressure groups are so involved in politics and have full time staffs who try to put their case to politicians, media and the government per se. Other considered pressure groups include private companies and their representatives such as tobacco industry which operates as pressure groups. These industries have resources which are not accessible by the general public.
These pressure groups enable ordinary citizen to influence issues which concern them. Since most people don't have enough time, budget or expertise to run some campaign to express what they feel on a certain issue, pressure groups can use their resources and the contributions of their members, or even employ staff to disseminate some advertisements, collect statistics, send out mail shots and use the media to work for them. It is said that the more members a group has, the more impact and influence it can exert to some issues, majority of which are political issues.
With the growing numbers of pressure groups in UK and other democratic countries, the role of the pressure groups are given emphasis. In this regard, scholars are trying to identify if pressure groups help or aid democracy or it only serve as a hindrance for democracy. Thus, the main goal of this paper is to determine whether pressure groups really aid democracy or hinder it.
Pressure Groups Help or hinder Democracy
United Kingdom in recent years has witnessed a growth of direct action protest over matters such as calf (veal) exports, runway construction at Manchester Airport, road building in numerous locations, animal rights protests, and so on (Ridley & Jordan 1998) that seek to use the media and public opinion to pressure parties (usually the governing party) to change their priorities.
The two major British parties are noted to have various organizational structures which affect their relationships with pressure groups. The Conservative Party is said to be a leader-dominated party. Herein, power is highly centralized. In theory, the parliamentary party and the party leadership are independent of the other parts of the Conservative Party including the Unionist Associations, National Union of Conservative and the Constituency Associations, which together, in effect, comprises the party membership. In this part, the leader drafts the platform and has direct administration over the institutional centre of the part, i.e. Conservative Central Office. The annual conference of Conservative parities has no formal decision-making and policymaking powers unlike the Labour Party. Herein, the National Union convenes the conference but only has a purely advisory role. On the other hand, the Constituency Associations have three major roles which include raising funds, campaigning for the party in both local and national elections and choosing parliamentary candidates. For pressure groups that wish to influence policies of the party, the main target is the parliamentary leadership (Garner & Kelly 1998).
In line with the Labour Party, such part has six major organisational elements which include their leader, the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), National Executive Committee, LP headquarters, the Joint Policy Committer and the annual conference. Until 1997 the two key institutions were the NEC and the leader, with most policy proposals emanating from the NEC (constitutionally the NEC has joint responsibility for drafting the manifesto), although affiliated trade unions and constituency parties may put forward motions for debate at the annual conference, which lasts five days. Delegates from the various sections and branches of the party discuss organizational and policy matters. Although the constitutional position holds that the conference is the "supreme policymaking body, the political reality is that the key institutions are the NEC and the newly established JPC, chaired by the leader and composed of an equal number of members from the NEC and the government (Garner & Kelly 1998). As Coxall and Robins (1998) noted that the JPC directs an expanded National Policy Forum which consists of representatives from all sections of the party and reviews all party policy on a two-year rolling programme. This technique assumes that parties will respond to public opinion and that changing public opinion is therefore an effective instrument to secure specific policy changes.
Pressure groups embroiled in these activities aim to influence policy outcomes through high-profile media stunts for three main reasons. First, they are ideologically opposed to insider-type politics. Second, they have failed to gain entry to the insider circle. And third, their claims on the political system are too controversial to be processed bureaucratically (McLaughlin, Jordan, & Maloney, 1994). Essentially non-partisan activism seeks to draw attention to the issues and raise public concern and consciousness. Groups can pursue some of these links in parallel. A group may want to be rather apolitical in its relationship with the bureaucracy (separation), but it might also attempt to be confrontational in relation to parties. However, some strategies are mutually exclusive: a group involved in rivalry is not likely to have access through the bureaucracy.
In the issue confronting pressure groups as an aid for democracy, there are certain arguments that can be noted. First, pressure groups tends to help democracy because of their capability to get the people be involved in politics about different issues like school closure or any issues that interests the.
In this regard, the pressure groups are able to increase participation as well as access to political system of rhe government, thereby improving the quality of democracy. In addition, pressure groups enable the intensity of feeling on political issues to be given focus, opinions to be considered as well as those contexts that must be counted. Herein, the pressure groups act as an efficient channel of communication between the government and the people articulating needs and mobilising support for them. They also let people have the chance to widely participate in the issue without devoting excessive amounts of time.
Furthermore, pressure groups can also aid democracy by improving the government, especially in terms of decision making. It can be said that some political parties tends to consult specific pressure groups before they make decisions. Such consultation process can be considered as a rational way in making decisions in a democratic and free society. Herein, the information gathered by the political parties as well as the advice provided by there pressure groups helps the government enhance the quality of the government legislation and policy (Grant, 2000).
Pressure groups also aid democracy in terms of providing social progress. Through these interest or pressure groups, there is also an associated social progress which can be linked with democracy. Pressure groups enable how political issues and concerns to reach the political agenda thereby creating social progress and avoiding social stagnation.
In the context of pluralism, pressure groups are regarded as a product of liberty of association that is a fundamental element of liberal democracy and its facade is tyrannical or autocratic suppression of interests. Since pressure groups can have free operations, it is essential to the effective and progressive functioning of liberal democracy. In addition, pressure groups serve as essential intermediary organisations between the society and government, assisting both in the dispersal of political power and give significant counterweights to undue power concentration (Joyce, 2002).
As part of having a democratic nation, the context social cohesion is important. In this regard, pressure groups aid in democracy by increasing social cohesiveness and political stability by giving safety-value outlet for people and collective grievance. For opposition, pressure groups assist government surveillance by exposing important information thereby, reinforcing and complementing the work of official opposition through various political parties (Coxall & Robins, 1998).
The pressure groups help in ensuring that minority groups and interests are well represented within the government and political system. Since some minority groups are sometimes neglected because of their little capacity, larger pressure groups helps them to have the attention of the government.
The discussion above has provided some arguments on how pressure groups aid democracy. In this part of the paper, the discussion will provide
some arguments on how pressure groups hinder democracy. Some argues that pressure groups hinder democracy because they are not elected, not accountable and often unrepresentative. It can be noted that effective pressure can consist lobbying that often goes on unreported and only favours those institutions with adequate resources. Some pressure groups are believed to have the ability to break the law and some uses violent approaches so as to attract the attention of the media for their own benefits. In a democratic society like UK, each individual including those pressure groups have an accountability to work within the law. However, since most pressure groups are only concerned to their welfare and neglect the broader good of the whole society as well as the country, they tend to break the law by pursuing their campaign like the TUs on strike, fuel strike and public transport. Although pressure groups enhance individual participation, some pressure groups, especially those well-organised tend to benefit while those who were weakly organised may not. The pressure groups also hinders democracy because of anti-parliamentary movement, In this regard, the secret behind the scenes consultations between the pressure groups and the government enables covert deals to be granted thereby detracting both from having an open government and the legitimate influence of those elected officials in the parliament. Some pressure groups may also exercise disproportionate amounts of impact because of finance and links with some political party's like TUs giving money to labour.
Some pressure groups also tents to create pluralistic stagnation. In this regard those opposing pressure groups can slow down or even ban the desirable changes, which contributed to social immobilism. Such aspect hinders democratic movement. Furthermore, pressure groups also create elitism and that group that belongs in this class are the only ones who are benefited while others are negatively affected. Pressure groups which have the ear of political and business elites are plausibly more likely to influence policy making and decision making than those underdogs. For example, the high-level lobbying of professional associations and trade only enables middle-class individual to connect and click with the people at the top and others have not been given any chances to participate with them.
Pressure groups also tend to create social dislocation and disharmony. It is said that inegalitarian functions of these pressure groups, social discontent and instability of the political elements tends to arise by intensifying sense of injustice and social frustration felt by the disadvantages groups and excluded sections of the entire population. Some pressure groups hinder democracy because of having limited extent in practice. In the United Kingdom, pressure groups and parties combined do not have the ability to mount effective opposition to the policies of the government because it often lacks adequate information from reliable sources.
In this analysis, it can be said that pressure groups can be helpful for democracy or can be considered as a major obstacle for democracy. The outcome of the movements of these pressure groups and the purpose set by them can be an important factor to determine whether they are helpful for democracy or not. Herein, there are some instances that can be attributed to the notion that pressure groups really helps or aids democracy while there are arguments which shows how it hinders democracy. Either way, the British government must be able to handle effectively those emerging pressure groups in the county and they must have a good relationship to each of this group to avoid conflicts. The government must be able to weigh first the consequences of the policies they made, to avoid political problems and issues that would trigger pressure groups to make negative campaigns against the government. In the part of the pressure groups, the members and the leaders should ensure that they are adhering to the policies and rules set by the government to avoid major conflicts.
It can be concluded that, in a democratic country like UK, every individual has the right to express their feelings especially on political issues and conflicts, in order for these individuals to do it, they join different groups and movements that they feel would help them express what they feel. In this regard, people should be more cautious on which group to participate since there exists some pressure groups which have hidden purpose that do not address your own objective.
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Coxall, B and Robins, L 1998, Contemporary British Politics Third Edition, Hampshire: Palgrave.
Garner, R and Kelly, R 1998. British Political Parties Today, 2nd ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Grant, W 2000. Pressure Groups and British Politics, London. Macmillan
Jordan, G and Maloney, W 1997. The Protest Business Manchester: Manchester University Press
Joyce, P 2002, The Politics of Protest Basingstoke: Palgrave.
McLaughlin, A., Jordan, G and Maloney, W 1993 'Corporate Lobbying in the European Community,' Journal of Common Market Studies, 31 (2), pp191 212.
Ridley, FF, and Jordan, G eds. 1998. Protest Politics: Cause Groups and Campaigns. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, C and Rienner, L 2001. Political Parties and Interest Groups: Shaping Democratic Governance. Boulder, Colorado.
Zariski, R1992. "Interest Groups" In M. Hawkesworth and M. Kogan, eds., The Encyclopedia of Government and Politics, Vol. 1. London: Routledge.
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