Monday, January 10, 2005

`Pressure group activity is necessary for democracy.’ Critically discuss this proposition 2

Today was the first chance I had to pick up my marked essay which I handed in towards the end of November.

Graham Raymond my lecturer who had the misfortune of having to mark this essay said the essay was good on Knowledge and Content, Argument and Analysis and Referencing, Expression and Presentation.

In comments Graham made on the Assessment Criteria Sheet Graham says I cover the different examples of pressure groups very well but when explaining their impact on democracy I loose my way some what.

All these comments will be taken on board for when I complete my next piece of work that is due in on the 24th.

For those of you interested I have copied the whole essay below.

`Pressure group activity is necessary for democracy’ Critically discuss this proposition

Pressure groups can be defined as groups of people who have come together to protect and advocate a shared interest.

Pressure groups can be divided into two categories “sectional” or “interest” groups and “cause” or “promotional” groups. “Sectional” and “interest” groups act to protect the interests of their members. Examples include unions (National Union of Students), professional bodies (British Medical Association) and employers’ organisations (Confederation of British Industry). “Cause” and “promotional” groups act to promote a particular idea, cause or issue not directly related to the personal interest of their members. Examples include Charter88, Britain in Europe, The Electoral Reform Society and Make Votes Count.

These groups can then be further divided into peak associations who are umbrella organisations that represent the interest broad bands of similar groups such as workers (Trade Union Council) and fire brigade groups who form in reaction to a specific problem and disband when it is solved. An example of a fire brigade group is the Anti-Poll Tax Federation. This sub-division can also include episodic groups they are groups who are not normally political but may become when circumstances require. Religious groups who sometimes speak out against issues such as abortion, gay marriages etc are examples of episodic groups.

Pressure groups can also be divided as “insider” and “outsider” groups. Insider groups are those who have access to decision makers and politicians. Outsider groups are those who do not have access to decision makers and politicians. Those groups who wish to work outside of the current political establishment may also be referred to as “outsider groups”.

Finally there are the New Social Movements, which are political organisations who have broader concerns then many interest or cause groups, but are more loosely knit then political parties.

There are thousands of pressure groups covering almost every conceivable interest and these groups come in many different forms. Some pressure groups such as Fathers for Justice are continuously active in politics while others are very rarely heard of or seen. As government behaviour and politics affect so many people many groups are likely to be politically active locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.

Pressure groups come in many different forms-large and small, loosely knit and highly organised, rich and poor. Some of these groups will work together while others will work against each other. The recent referendum on regional devolution in the North East saw rival pressure groups from the Yes and No campaign competing against each other.

Many but not all pressure groups are organised like a pyramid with local branches at the bottom, area and regional organisations in the middle and national and international bodies at the top. These networks allow organisations groups with similar positions to work together on issues. For example during the Local, Greater London Assembly and European Parliament elections in June 2004 Unite Against Fascism brought together many different organisations such as political parties, trade unions, charities, religious groups and women’s organisations to campaign against the election of fascist parties. This was only possible because the groups brought together all had local organisations/branches who were prepared to work together to campaign locally.

Pressure groups generally exert pressure at two different stages. The first is the policy making stage at this stage pressure groups put forward their ideas of policy and then at the decision making stage when they try convince politicians and decision makers to adopt policies that support their cause.

Some people argue that pressure groups are a potential threat to Parliament and a danger in democracy while others argue that pressure groups play an important part in any democracy.

Those who argue that pressure groups are important for democracy say that pressure groups are a means of political participation and influence for members of the public especially minority groups. However the New Right who see pressure groups as a potential danger to Parliamentary Democracy argue that government are elected by citizens to represent the public good and pressure groups work against this especially those representing minority groups. However if we take John Emrich Edward Dalberg Acton’s remark “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities” then we must see pressure groups that allow minorities opinions to be recognised as an example of the strength of our democracy.

Those who argue that pressure groups are a potential threat to “our way of life”, Parliament and a danger in democracy site examples such as the fuel crisis of September 2000 when an almost ad hoc alliance of road hauliers and farmers blockaded all the country’s oil refineries and depots causing widespread panic buying by the public. During this period the government took steps to secure emergency powers from the Privy Council to control the supply of fuel. However others may argue that the fuel crisis of September 2000 was a success for democracy and proved the need for pressure groups and protest because it was not the government but members of the public setting the political and news agenda.

Others argue that pressure groups especially trade unions; professional bodies and some business groups distort market operations. They also argue that these in protecting their and their members interest slow economic growth and cause unemployment, inflation and high public expenditure. They often site the industrial problems that plagued the Callaghan government of the late seventies as an example of this. However it could be argued that Trade Unions and Professional Bodies protect their members who would be possibly trampled on if the market were totally free. It could also be argued that these groups can help in keeping industrial relations good which then allows the owners, managers and workers to get on with making the company/economy more efficient rather then spending time in discussing to how to sort out disputes or striking. It can also be argued that if Business Groups did not exist the government could more easily increase red tape and taxes causing a distorted market.

The greater number of groups and the diversity of the issues they cover ensure political recognition of many issues, which political parties would rather disappear. An advantage of the number of groups and issues covered by pressure groups is that it allows a greater number of people to participate in the political process without being politically partisan. Pressure groups can also provide for those who find the party system difficult or complicated to understand as identified in Jordon, G 1998 Hugo Young (Guardian, 22.6.95) “Single-issue work these makes a stronger appeal. It is pure. It is clear. It is unencumbered by complications. Its virtue is obvious. It also brings widespread benefits to society”.

Other argue that while pressure groups alienate others from the political process by making request which would be reachable only if the government only concentrated on their wants and their interest and therefore when not delivered the supporters and followers of these groups become disillusioned with politics. It can also be argued that groups who make undeliverable request could force those are moderate and ready work within the system to become militant and possibly to the extent where they threaten the peace.
I would argue that as pressure groups are a means of political participation and influence for members of the public especially minority groups allowing minority opinions to be voiced. pressure behaviour sometimes allows the public and not the politicians to set the political and news agenda and pressure groups an opportunity for a greater number of people to participate in the political process without being politically partisan. These in my conclusion prove that pressure group activity is necessary for democracy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best regards from NY!

16/8/06 02:35  

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