ü Definition and types of pressure group
ü Parties and pressure groups
ü How pressure groups attempt to influence government
ü Factors affecting pressure group success
ü Pressure groups and democracy
Study Guide questions are found at the end of each section
1. Definition and Classification
o Samuel Finer has defined pressure groups as 'organisations [which try] to influence the policy of public bodies in their chosen direction; though, unlike political parties, never themselves prepared to undertake the direct government of the country'..
o Sectional and Promotional or Cause Groups - Richardson and Jordan outline the distinction in the following terms, ‘There is a basic distinction between self-interested groups pursuing sectional, often economic, ends and those groups which seek to promote a change in social values or practices.’
o Sectional interests speak in 'defence' of their members and groups organising shared attitudes seek to'promote'the causes which reflect the attitudes of their members.
o Groups such as the CBI or the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) are sectional groups. The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) serves as an example of a promotional (or cause) group.
o Another approximate distinction is between groups 'of' and groups 'for': CPAG might be for the poor, but it is not necessarily an organisation of the poor.
o ‘Sectional (or Interest) groups are generally regarded as organisations or associations linked to one's job or occupation, which give individuals in them a set of common interests to pursue. Good examples are trade unions and professional associations
o 'Cause' and promotional groups, by way of contrast, usually come together on the basis of some principle or activity to which individuals are committed.
o The difficulty is that most of the activities of pressure groups overlap at least a little. Hence the distinction between interest and cause groups is not always clear. The National Union of Teachers is an interest group but it often expresses the same concern for educational quality as some cause groups. Equally, some cause groups promote the interests of those who find it difficult to form their own interest group, such as
o Both sectional and cause groups can be sub-divided. sectional groups include:
§ Industrial pressure groups - the CBI, NFU, The Engineering Employers Federation;
§ Commercial pressure groups - Motor Agents Association, the Co-operative Movement;
§ Financial pressure groups - the Bank of Enland, the British Insurance Association;
§ Professional pressure groups - the Law Society and BMA;
§ Trade Unions like the NUR.
o Examples of trade unions –
§ UNISON (an amalgamation of NALGO, NUPE and COHSE, all public service unions) -membership 1,300,451.
§ The TGWU (Transport and General Workers Union) - membership 881,357.
§ lgamated Engineering & Electrical Union) - membership 720,296
§ The TUC (Trades Union Congress), the trade association for 73 independent trade unions, essentially a union of trade unions - with a combined membership in 1998 of 6.6 million.'
o With regard to employers' associations, there is
§ the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), which exists primarily to ensure that Governments understand the intentions, needs and problems of British business. With a membership of more than 250,000 firms, employers' associations and trade associations covering 50 per cent of both the UK's workforce and output, it is the leading 'voice' of business in Britain.
§ Modern rivals for the CBI include the Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors, and there are many more trade associations which speak for different sectors of British industry and commerce.
§ The NFU (National Farmers' Union) has a membership of 68,817 throughout England and Wales, 75 per cent of the total number of farmers.
§ Professional associations - prominent examples include the Royal College of Nursing which represents nurses, the Law Society for solicitors and the Bar Council for barristers.
§ A vast array of other groups would also be classified as 'interest groups', such as the Society of Authors, the Royal British Legion, the Association of Licensed Taxi Drivers, the Scottish Whisky Association and the AA (Automobile Association).
o Cause groups include
§ welfare groups - like Shelter and the Family Planning Association;
§ environmental groups - like the CPRE;
§ Cultural groups - like Christian Union;
§ Recreational groups like the RFU, AAA and FA;
§ International groups like Oxfam.
o Cause groups include those dedicated to:
§ the cause of environmental protection, such as: - Friends of the Earth - 200,000 members; Greenpeace - 200,000 members; The National Trust - 2.5 million members; The Council for the Protection of Rural England - 46,000 members;
§ to prison reform, such as The Howard League for Penal Reform - 3000 members and supporters;
§ electoral reform, such as The Reform Society - 2000 members;
§ nuclear disarmament, such as The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND - 35,000 members.
o Insider Groups - An 'insider group’ has ‘an accepted right to be consulted before policies are authorised’ (Kogan) - that is, before policy is put to parliament.
o The BMA and Law Society are insider groups. The basic assumption behind the concept is that both government and groups benefit. It is obviously in a groups’ interest to establish confidential contact - whichever party is in power - so that the group is consulted whenever the government is contemplating measures which may affect the group.
o The implication is that the process of government in Britain involves a process of accommodation between governments and well-organised,, 'responsible' groups who are willing to bargain and compromise in confidence and out of public view.
o Social Movements - ‘The traditional role undertaken by pressure groups to promote political change in the United Kingdom has more recently been supplemented by organisations termed 'social movements'. These are associated with the leftwing of the political spectrum but have substituted the traditional Marxist emphasis on the overthrow of capitalism with a range of direct action tactics which seek to transform society by redefining social values.
o The environmental movement is an example of a contemporary social movement. It has succeeded in bringing together a range of groups engaged in counter-cultural protest (such as New Age Travellers). and those opposed to hunting, live animal exports, motorway construction and pollution.
o These seemingly disparate, single-issue bodies are united by a social vision which resists the culture of advanced capitalist society.
o They have used tactics of protest and direct action to project an alternative vision which emphasises environmental considerations rather than the pursuit of wealth and profit.
o Single Issue Groups - at the other end of the spectrum from social movements are single issue groups commonly based on NIMBY issues (not in my back yard). for example, groups grow to protest against specific industrial developments, or new airports or campaign for special laws and then disappear once the campaign has been won or lost.
o An example is the campaign waged to introduce a version of the US ‘Megan’s Law’ which gives the public knowledge of the whereabouts of sex offenders once they have served their sentence.
What is a pressure group?
Outline – with examples – different types of pressure group.
2. Parties and Pressure Groups
o Pressure groups and parties are different: Parties want to become the government, pressure groups only want to influence government. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), for example, wants to influence a small part of government policy, but does not want control.
§ Parties have broad policy interests, pressure groups have narrow policy interests. The Countryside Alliance is concerned with country sports and the countryside, nothing else
§ Parties are primarily political, pressure groups are not. Many try to avoid politics as much as possible. The Ramblers'Association becomes involved in politics only when access, walking and the countryside are involved.
§ Parties fight elections, the vast majority of pressure groups do not. The British Medical Association (BMA) is a powerful pressure group in the health sector, but it does not run candidates for political office.
§ Parties are usually ideological based on sets of political ideals and a philosophy, most pressure groups are pragmatic, designed to look after the interests of their members
o However, there is no very clear distinction between political parties and pressure groups.
§ Some pressure groups have a very broad range of policy interests, for example the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Confederation of British Industries (CBI).
§ Some groups (eg Friends of the Earth) are inextricably bound up with politics because of their aims.
§ Certain groups do fight elections, like the Green Party.
§ Many cause groups are highly philosophical - like the animal rights movement.
§ Some ‘parties’ are much more like pressure groups because they have little hope of controlling government, for example, the UK Independence Party and the Referendum Party.
Distinguish between pressure groups and parties
Why is it difficult to make a clear distinction?
3. Pressure Group Channels of Influence
o Why Whitehall is the most important channel: The most significant channel of influence employed by pressure groups is Whitehall the departments of central government.
§ 'The basic fact of pressure group activity in Britain is the inherent strength reposed in any British government, resulting from its extreme centralism.......’ (Parry, 'British Government').
§ Therefore pressure groups which achieve most success aim 'to establish confidential contact with the government, whichever party is in power, so the group is consulted whenever the government is contemplating measures which may affect the group' (Parry). This is sometimes referred to as 'insider' status.
§ Groups want to influence government because government distributes enormous economic resources. 'Once it had been largely agreed by all parties that [government] should collect and spend over one third of the national income, tremendous pressures were bound to be brought to bear to influence the distribution of burdens and benefits.' (McKenzie, 'Parties, Pressure Groups and the British Political Process, Political Quarterly, 1958).
§ Government and groups need each other. In such a situation, 'Groups needed government in order to ensure that their members got the share of the economic cake that they desired. Conversely, government needed the groups...... for advice, for information and for co-operation. The relationship became one of mutual dependence.' (Philip Norton, 'The British Polity').
o For governments there are many advantages
§ They have access to a range of advice and information it needs to run a modern society
§ government is more stable because government (through its permanent officials - the civil service) negotiates with major interests and
§ secures their co-operation through compromises and bargains
§ gets their help in implementing policy and mobilising consent among their members.
§ Conflict is thus limited and controlled.
o It is common to talk of 'policy communities' - officials in government departments make policy together with a small number of 'client' or insider, groups. Others - pressure groups and other government departments (and parliament) are excluded. Relationships are regularised and perhaps institutionalised through an advisory committee. Pressure groups are responsible and abide by the rules of the game - not criticising the government in public.
o The Agricultural Community - at least until the mid-1980s - is a classical example. In a policy community there is a high degree of agreement between officials and representatives of pressure groups and their relationship is one of bargaining and exchange of information or favours. The classic policy community was in agriculture between the 1930s and the mid 1980s. The threat of war placed the farmers in a strong position. The 'Annual Price Review' was established in the 1930s to fix foodstuff prices. The Ministry of Agriculture negotiated prices with the NFU - all other groups, for example consumer or environmental groups were excluded. This continued after 1945 because of a world shortage of food. There was agreement on the basic aim of policy - to increase British production of food and that farmers would receive a high level of state subsidy. This policy community continued unchallenged, into the 1980s.
o How groups co-operate with Whitehall:
§ Pressure groups and Whitehall co-operate formally - by serving together on advisory and executive agencies and QUANG0s. These bodies have increased. 'What is significant is the number of such bodies and the extent to which they are manned by and would be unable to function without members of affected interest groups' (Philip Norton 'The British Polity').
§ Groups may also be asked to service on Royal Commissions of Committees of Inquiry to advise on specific issues.
§ They also operate informally - e.g. luncheons hosted by a Minister for a foreign dignitary - salaried group leaders are often invited.
o Criticisms and Defence : The relationship between pressure groups and Whitehall is open to a range of criticisms most strongly made by Marxist theorists.
§ Marxists stress the economic basis of politics conflicts take place in a society where wealth is unevenly distributed between two classes, those who own the 'means of production' and those who sell their labour.
§ An article in The Independent in December 1989, in arguing why the volume of sugar in the British diet is not seriously investigated by the Department of Health pointed out that the chairman of the Medical Research Council - a quango responsible for allocating research fund - was Earl Jellico, a director of Tate and Lyle. advisor on the privatisation programme.
§ These criticisms can be partially countered by the argument that policy in many areas is not controlled by such closed communities, and even in some policy areas which once were dominated by such a relationship, the policy community can break down.
§ Policy communities are subject to challenges. Smith outlines a number of reasons why policy-making in closed communities may break down - because of changes in external relations (membership of the EU has disturbed many policy communities in Britain , particularly in agriculture); economic and social change (new groups have arisen interested in peace, racial and sexual equality, animal welfare) new problems arise (for example, environmental issues). The breakdown of the agriculture policy community illustrates these points.
§ The key development was Britains's membership of the EEC, the food mountains and their cost to Britain, Conservative MPs were at the forefront of criticisms of the CAP. Environmentalists were becoming increasing concerned with intensive farming methods; medical experts raised questions about the use of chemicals on the land; the media's interest grew; in addition, there was pressure from the USA, Australia, New Zealand and many third world countries for Europe to cut production as surplus was off-loaded cheaply; the EU has become the largest exporter of food in the world.
o Links between pressure groups and parties :
§ British government is party government so it is inevitable that pressure groups will have links with the major parties - especially the sectional groups because both the Conservative and Labour parties have widely been seen as based on economic class interests.
§ The Conservative Party has policies and principles which are sympathetic to industry and commerce. By the early 1980's about 300 publicly quoted companies contributed approximately £2 million annually to the Conservative Party - probably approaching 1/4 of total income. Industry and business are not formally represented in the party but are informally represented at all levels from the Cabinet and parliamentary party downwards.
§ The Labour Party has formed links with the union movement which created it. Through political affiliation, the unions provide the bulk of members, over half the NEC and the great majority of party conference votes plus one third of votes for party leader.. Unions sponsor parliamentary candidates and provide over three-quarters of all party income.
o Prisoners of vested economic interests ?
§ Both major parties often accuse each other of this yet parties cannot be a simple channel for pressure group interests. Parties are themselves coalitions of interests and viewpoints and governments must deal with national and international issues much wider than the concerns of domestic economic interests. Governments must also face re-election.
§ At the same time, sectional interests cannot afford to be exclusively aligned with one party - they must seek to protect their interests whoever is in power.
§ The Conservatives after 1979 followed an economic policy based on ideology, not the views of industry and business who often wished for more pragmatic government policy.
§ The association of many major sectional groups under broad party umbrellas is very important but it is incorrect to suggest that pressure groups can dictate policy to parties in fact, because the sectional interests would generally prefer a specific government, they have to be prepared to moderate their demands on 'their' party for the sake of electoral success. Therefore, parties control pressure groups just as much as pressure groups control parties.
o Party Funding :
§ Despite the above conclusion there remain major concerns about party funding. The Constitution Unit reports that ‘ Labour came to power with a commitment to ban political parties from receiving donations from overseas and to oblige them to reveal the source of their income. It also promised to ask the Committee on standards in Public Life to examine the regulation of party funding. The Committee investigated party funding between December 1997 and October 1998. Its final report included recommendations to:
· increase in the level of state support for the parties in parliament,
· enforce disclosure of donations over the value of £5,000 (to the national part of a party) or £1,000 (to a constituency);
· cap general election spending by each party of £20m
· establish an Election Commission, to oversee the disclosure of donations, caps on election spending and other tasks imposed by the new regulations;
· equal public funding for the main opposing campaign groups in referendums;.
c Pressure Groups and Westminister
o The potential of Westminster: pressure groups attempt to influence parliament for three main reasons:
§ To amend legislation
§ To promote legislation
§ To influence the general climate of opinion
§ The ability of backbenchers and peers to influence legislation is restricted because of the nature of strong, party government. But parties are not monoliths, leaders do not exercise unquestioned loyalty of their followers.
§ The House of Commons has witnessed significant 'rebellions' of backbenchers since 1970 and a much more effective committee system was established in 1979. The Lords has become much more independent since 1979.
§ In additional, there are several circumstances when legislation can be more open to pressure group influence
· when the government majority is small (e.g. 1964-66, 1974-6, after 1992 - for example the Conservatives dropped post office privatisation in 1994, Heseltine said, because 9 Tory MPs had told him they could not support the measure) or nonexistent, (1976-79);
· when there is a free vote in Parliament (e.g. Capital Punishment);
· when backbench M.P's have the opportunity to introduce Private Members Legislation (e.g. David Steel's Abortion Bill 1969 and attempts to amend it in 1988 by David Alton);
· when general elections are on the horizon.
o Who uses parliament ?
§ Parliament tends to be the major channel for many promotional groups which lack 'insider' status. So groups such as the League Against Cruel Sports, the Ramblers Association, and the Consumers Association direct considerable effort towards parliamentary pressure.
§ Such promotional groups depend on demonstrating that public opinion supports them hence they must publicize their case - get it presented in Parliament, attempt to 'educate' the public and win support. This is why such groups will usually mount general campaigns to support the parliamentary channel - issuing material to the press, appearing on radio and television.
o Why do Ministers give way to pressure groups ?
§ Ministers will sometimes give concessions and Finer, in 'Anonymous Empire', identified some broad reasons. Ministers and civil servants are not infallible - they may concede to limit the political dangers if they make mistakes - e.g. the units fine sysytem was quickly withdrawn in 1993; the CSA was reformed in 1995.
§ Ministers may engage in gamesmanship - Ministers will often concede on minor points if this soothes the passage of the main provisions of a Bill.
§ Electoral support is another factor since governments cannot afford to consistently alienate significant sections of the people.
§ Keeping backbenchers sweet - concessions have to be given to backbenchers especially since parties are broad Churches and constituency interests have to be considered. Backbenchers are increasingly willing to vote against their own party leaders.
§ Also - the threat of House of Lords opposition may encourage concession to avoid bottlenecks in the legislative process. The Lords has been much more independently minded since 1979.
§ Ideology is also often significant. . 'Success can often depend on couching proposals in terms which include catch-phrases likely to appeal to certain ideological outlooks' (Davies) e.g. the Conservative administrations after 1979 saw competition as central to policy so the Consumer Association mounted its campaign to end solicitors conveyancing monopoly in these terms.
o How pressure groups work through parliament: Pressure groups use a number of methods when working through parliament.
§ The mass lobby at the House of Commons - the traditional demonstration of mass support was once commonly employed during protracted industrial disputes or during intense public debate, for example in 1988 during an attempt to amend abortion regulations.
§ Overlapping membership and paid consultancies- many MPs and peers are members of pressure groups or are generally sympathetic to the cause. Groups may try to recruit MPs and list them as supporters on their literature e.g. Des Wilson managed to persuade 175 MPs and 50 peers to officially support the Freedom of Information Campaign. Many MPs are willing to speak on behalf of groups because of their shared viewpoin, without any payment.
§ Extracts from the Register of members interests, March 2001 NICHOLLS, Patrick (Teignbridge) Renumeration: Wells: tailors, London. (£1,001-£5,000) The Clinical Dental Technicians Association (CDTA). (£10,001-£15,000) Builders Hardware Industry Forum. (£5,001-£10,000) The Glass and Glazing Federation. (£1,001-£5,000) Consultant to Messrs. Dunn & Baker, Solicitors. Occasional fees for writing and broadcasting. Member of Harris Parliamentary Panel. (£1-£1,000) Occasional opinion polls for MORI. 5. Gifts, benefits and hospitality (UK) From late October 1997, loan of a sky dish from News International. Cosmetic treatment to the body work of my motor car by The Plastic Surgeon Ltd of Exeter, Devon. (Registered 28 February 2000) 6. Overseas visits 20-27 April 2000, to Egypt with my wife at the invitation and expense of the Government of Egypt. (Registered 11 May 2000) 8-13 October 2000, to Bahrain accompanied by my wife, on a study tour financed by the Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies. (Registered 2 November 2000) 19-22 October 2000, to Malaga to make a speech; air ticket paid for by Conservatives Abroad. (Registered 2 November 2000) 8. Land and Property Commercial rented property in Devon. 10. Miscellaneous and unremunerated interests Parliamentary representative (unpaid) of the National Ex-Prisoner of War Association.
§ Sponsorship - some groups pay MPs to put their case in Parliament. Trade unions sponsor over 40% of all Labour M.P's, who receive help with election expenses, parliamentary costs and a small salary.
§ Professional lobbyists - there are 30 or so specialist firms which monitor parliamentary business and inform clients of relevant developments; establish contacts between groups and M.P's, civil servants and the media and build up data on M.P's interests and attitudes. Ken Livingstone used such a consultancy firm in his 'Save the GLC' campaign. Many of these have been established by M.P's themselves and there is considerable concern about their influence (see below).
o How can MPs help pressure groups ?
§ MPs assist a pressure group by pulling strings - an enquiry to a Minister is more likely to receive a quick reply if it comes from an M. P. - or through horse trading - M. P's engage in horse-trading behind the scenes so that a promise to support another group's interest will ensure their support in return.
§ They may ask questions and speak in debates - the NFU have often employed Question Time to help mobilize support and have supplied M.P's with questions to ask the Minister. This is often done in collusion with the Minister himself who prefers there to be seen to be a groundswell of parliamentary support before taking action.
§ M.P's may often speak in debates from briefs supplied by pressure groups in their constituencies, e.g. the Scottish Whisky Association.
§ Parliamentary Procedure - putting down amendments to completely irrelevant legislation to prevent a bill which is considered harmful, e.g. in June 1981, Sir Anthony Kershaw tabled 27 out of 164 trivial amendments to the Zoo Licensing Bill - this prevented the next item being debated. It happened to be a bill to eliminate tobacco sponsorship in sport and the arts. Kershaw was a paid representative of British American Tobacco. Alton's attempt to reform abortion law in 1988 was similarly defeated.
§ Private Members Legislation may be used - David Steel's Abortion Bill of 1967 is an example of an M.P working closely with a pressure group , which acted as a research body providing expertise. The NVALA and Consumers Association have had success with bills concerning video censorship and solicitors conveyancing monopoly. But if there is a well-organized counter campaign success is unlikely, e.g. between 1967 and 1977 there were 16 unsuccessful attempts to prohibit stag-hunting and hare-coursing because opponents used procedure to block the bills. Industry and business may retain MPs as directors or advisors.
§ There are dangers in the process of influencing MPs as well as the advantages such as MPs gaining status, resources and information from their relationship with pressure groups.
§ Only the wealthy and well-organized can exploit the full potential of this channel - by hiring MPs or special agencies.
§ The tactics of influencing MPs by monetary or other rewards, the procedural methods often used to block proposals and the operation of special agencies - bring democratic politics into disrepute.
o There is not the same tradition of using the courts as in the USA - this is largely because there is no written constitution in Britain and British courts do not have the same powers as the American Supreme Court. However, with the passing of the Human Rights Act this is set to change – perhaps dramatically.
o The Human Rights Act: The UK has been a signatory of the Convention of Human Rights since 1953. Individuals, often supported by pressure groups, have taken cases to the European Court of Human Rights with some success e.g. corporal punishment in schools was declared contrary to the convention - the case was supported by STOPP. Success has also been achieved in the area of equal pay and freedom of prisoners mail from censureship.
o In October 2000, the Human Rights Act came into effect, incorporating the ECHR into UK law. This has great potential for making the courts a major target for pressure group campaigns. The Labour Government’s incorporation of the ECHR into British law requires a different balance between a Bill of Rights interpreted by judges and the power of elected politicians.
§ Labour’s Bill makes it unlawful for public bodies (including government departments, agencies, the police, prison officers, privatised utilities and the armed forces) to exercise their powers in ways which are incompatible with the ECHR.
§ Citizens will be able to appeal to the principles enshrined in the ECHR in any court in Britain. Courts will be able to quash actions of public bodies and to grant compensation to victims of abuse of power.
§ Acts are to be interpreted in ways which are compatible with the ECHR (ie if there is ambiguity or vagueness, the ECHR will be used to interpret an Act in ways which make it fit the principles of the convention).
§ If parliament passes legislation which the higher courts believe is not compatible with the ECHR, they can issue a formal declaration to that effect.
§ The courts will not have the power to veto such an act as unlawful, but the Labour White Paper states that such a declaration will ‘almost certainly’ prompt a government to change the law.
§ So, as envisaged by the current government, parliamentary sovereignty will remain intact but the ECHR will have both legal and moral force in restricting the actions of parliament and government.
§ Challenges to deportation orders for asylum seekers, more family friendly conditions for prisoners and an end to postcode rationing of NHS drugs are just some of the potential consequences of the Human Rights Act.
§ Prisoners located hundreds of miles from their homes, or denied conjugal visits or artificial insemination, or those in mother and baby units eventually separated from their children, might claim an infringement of their right to family life.
§ Action against the NHS is also expected. Under article two, the right to life, the state must not only refrain from taking life but has to safeguard it. Thus patients could challenge the postcode rationing of certain lifesaving drugs if a particular drug were available on the NHS in Oxford but not in Newcastle.
o Legal reform : Another factor in the increasing use of courts as a political forum is that there has been a wave of government sponsored legal reforms in the last twenty years, for example, limiting the right of silence and more recently, suggesting that the principle of double jeopardy be ended.
o Administrative Review: Courts in Britain have the duty to ensure that public officials do not act beyond the authority parliament has granted (ultra vires rule) and that they abide by the common law principle of natural justice.
o Groups have used the courts to challenge government decisions e.g. the unions at GCHQ unsuccessfully challenged the Conservative governments decision to prohibit union membership on security groups but The World Development Movement was successful in its attempt - in the High Court - to get Britain's aid contribution towards the building of the Pergau Dam in Malaysia, declared a misuse of public funds. A recent example is shown below.
o Politicisation of the Law : - since 1979 the courts have become much more involved in political disputes. For example, in March 2001, a leading QC from Matrix chambers, where Cherie Booth is a founding member, argued on behalf of the Fawcett Society, that five male judges cannot be an impartial court in deciding where the balance lies between the right of male defendants to a fair trial and the rights of their female accusers to privacy and dignity. The lords must decide whether a "rape shield" law which came into force in December, making evidence of a woman's sexual past inadmissible in deciding whether she consented, violates a defendant's right to a fair trial. The Fawcett Society is calling on the law lords to ensure that two women sit on the five-strong panel for the case.
e. The Media
o Wyn Grant has outlined several ways pressure groups try to use the media to exert
leverage on politicians,
§ Visibility refers to the use of the media to establish a presence, and to recruit and retain members. For example, a television programme called ‘The Animals Film ' was an important moment in the growth of public awareness of animal exploitation' (Porritt and Winner 1988, p. 52).
§ Constant exposure for the group in the media reassures its membership that it is active, and helps in the retention of members. There is little point in recruiting a large number of new members as a result of a blitz of media activity if their interest cannot be engaged and their support retained.
§ Using the media as a means of exerting influence on government is clearly particularly important. Sometimes, the government can be embarrassed into changing its mind through leaks of its intentions. 'The classic case occurred in 1977 when the Child Poverty Action Group leaked Cabinet minutes indicating that the Government was intending to postpone introduction of the child benefit scheme. The decision was reversed with trade union support mobilised by the leaks. and child benefit was phased in.
§ The case of Phoenix the calf helped focus the farmers’ campaign to end culling of healthy animals during the foot and mouth outbreak in the spring of 2001.
§ Media coverage can reinforce a case being made to civil servants by demonstrating that the matter is one of public concern. It may help to move the problem up the political agenda.
§ Environmental groups have been able to use media coverage to arouse public opinion and obtain a response from a previously indifferent government department. In relation to issues such as the introduction of lead-free petrol and against the introduction of heavier lorries, 'the media interest transformed what had previously been a humdrum administrative matter into a sensitive political issue' (Lowe and Goyder 1983. p. 79).
§ Pressure groups may lobby the media directly and attempt to influence the content of its output. A meeting between environmentalists and Robert Maxwell led to a three-month campaign on environmental issues in Mirror newspapers.
g. Direct Action
o Influencing government through attempting to ‘educate’ and mobilise public opinion is normally a sign of weakness – but circumstances do change. Sectional groups sometimes resort to direct action if other methods break down, for example the NFU have mounted direct action demonstations on many occasions since 1997. Educational and image-building techniques are employed as a matter of course by a wide variety of sectional and promotional groups.
o But some promotional groups rely almost exclusively on public pressure. Wyn Grant calls these 'ideological’ outsider groups - they do not want to become too closely entangled with the political system because they wish to radically challenge authority or accepted policy. CND and environmental like ALF are examples. Also single issue groups for a by-pass, or against a power station, or for a Welsh TV channel or tax discs - generally must mobilise mass public support before they can expert success.
o The May Day anti-capitalism rallies are good examples of direct action.
o To be successful such groups must convince the government that there has been a sea-change in public opinion. There are examples of such groups, for example ASH, in conjunction with the BMA.
o The campaign to keep Bart's Hospital open : A public campaign in the early 1990s, notable for its skilful handling of the media, exploitation of contacts and presentation of a reasoned alternative course of action is the campaign to save St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, which was threatened with closure by a Department of Health review.
o Bart's is more than just a major London hospital catering for some 400,000 local residents and several hundred thousand more commuters. It is also a national referral centre. Heart patients travel from as far as Wales. The children's cancer services, built up over 20 years, are internationally renowned. The hospital is also nationally respected for gastroenterology, diabetes and the treatment of hormone disorders.
o But the Conservative government was determined to rationalise specialties in London, to cut unneeded beds and release more money to improve the capital's dilapidated primary health care services. Bart's, on the doorstep of Fleet Street, is not short of media connections and they were quickly exploited. Jane Dacre, a Bart's consultant, alerted her husband Nigel, who is editor of ITN, and her brother-in-law Paul, editor of the Daily Mail. Anthony Clare, a former professor of psychiatry at the hospital talked to BBC colleagues. Jane Anderson, a senior lecturer in Aids and wife of the television presenter Clive Anderson, spread the word among her colleagues.
o The media was bombarded with argument - any bit of information that might help the cause, such as the fact that the time Tomlinson had spent at the hospital was not more than five hours. A vital figure in the campaign was the popular Professor Lesley Rees, dean of the Bart's medical school. She immediately harnessed the loyalty of Bart's medical students and as a member of the Press Complaints Commission was able to use her contacts with editors. 'It was not so much that we wanted to tell people what to write,' she says. 'We wanted them to know very quickly what could happen. 'The idea of closing Bart's to balance the health care books seemed to reflect a general malaise in this country. Quality of care and years of loyalty were left out of the equation. It was like saying Westminster Abbey should be demolished to build offices.'
o The final political breakthrough may well have been the debacle over the mines. It is reckoned that the Government was loath to risk a similarly expensive one over London hospitals. In the end, Virginia Bottomley – the minister - decided to give Bart's a partial reprieve, confining it to specialised treatment and research. The site of the hospital close to the levers of power and influence was vital to the success of the campaign. ‘That success is a dramatic demonstration of the powers that can be unleashed when the professional classes exploit their considerable network of contacts and lobbying skills’. (Daily Telegraph, 13 February 1993)
Explain the different methods pressure groups use to try to influence government.
4. Factors which influence pressure group success
a. Nature and scope of membership
o A pressure group which:
§ has a monopoly on representing a section of society
§ represents an easily organisable economic interest
§ concentrates its efforts on the political defence of those interests
§ has considerable potential political influence.
o The power of a group depends to a considerable extent on both the coverage and the cohesion of its membership. If a group has a clear identity and purpose and if it manages to attract into its membership a high proportion of those eligible to join, it can be said to have a good coverage and is likely to be effective in defence of its members' interests. This has been borne out by the British Medical Association (BMA) which over the years has had over 80 per cent of all practising doctors in membership
o On the other hand, if a group seeks to represent a wide range of interests, it is likely to have little natural cohesion and to be rather ineffective in defence of its members' interests. For example, neither the TUC, which seeks to represent 73 affiliated trade unions and 6.6 million individual trade unionists, nor the CBI, which seeks to do the same for more than 250,000 subscribing companies and employers' and trade associations, has been really effective on behalf of its members, since the need to be inclusive has weakened the cohesion and hence the effectiveness of each organisation. The TUC has had the added problem that the membership of trade unions declined by 45 per cent - more than 5.5 million members between 1979 and 1998, while the CBI has had the obvious difficulty of trying to represent employers both large and small in both the private and public sectors. For these reasons, among others, neither organisation has been particularly powerful or effective in recent times.
o Teachers have been weakened as a political force because the profession is represented by a range of often-conflicting unions.
b. Unity and Loyality of the rank and file
o The degree of loyalty shown by the rank and file towards their leaders and spokesmen is another aspect of the relative power or weakness of any group.
o When the activities of pressure group leaders seem likely to prejudice the interests of the ordinary members, the rank and file are quite likely to reject the lead which is given. For example, Arthur Scargill, as President of the NUM, was opposed by a majority of his own members when he was precipitate in seeking their endorsement for a political campaign of industrial action against the 1979-83 Conservative Government and succeeded only in splitting his union in 1984-85 when he persuaded his Executive to launch an all-out strike against threatened pit closures without first securing the support of his members in a union ballot.
o Other groups are not easy to organise. For example, railwaymen are split into grades and engine drivers have their own ‘elite’ union which aims to protect the privileges of its members from those in lower grades as well as deal with the management. It is even more difficult to organise diverse groups like consumers to, for example, boycott particular goods, shops or manufacturers.
o Business, professional and commercial enterprises find it easier to organise and agree on policies, for example airlines may agree on fare tariffs, oil producers on prices and so on because relevant decision-makers can easily communicate.
c. Political leverage
o The power of pressure groups also depends on the degree of political leverage which they can exert. In 1989 the brewing industry showed its ability to sway the then Conservative Government, partly through its ability to exploit a clever and hard-hitting advertising campaign, partly through an adroit use of political contacts, and partly because many Conservative backbenchers realised the significant part which it played in providing financial support for the party.
o Such leverage can take the form of an ability to deny to the rest of society the provision of goods or services which the community cannot easily do without and which others are not able to supply. For example, power station workers or air traffic controllers can be in such a position, as can computer operators in the Civil Service or safety workers in the water industry.
o Some groups have used campaigns of civil disobedience as a way to try and achieve their aims. The Suffragettes were an early example. More recently there has been:
§ the wide-scale campaign for the non-payment of the Poll Tax;
§ the port demonstrations co-ordinated by CIWF (Compassion in World Farming) against the live animal export trade in 1994-95;
§ the action taken by Welsh farmers against McDonalds over their purchases of British Beef in 1998;
§ the activity of DAN (Disabled People's Direct Action Network) which has fought hard in recent years to change the face of disability activism - such as lying on the pavement outside Downing Street in pools of blood-red paint.
§ Other groups have become involved - some intentionally, others unintentionally - in direct action which has involved violence. Examples of this are: the inner city riots of the early 1980s, the Poll Tax riot in Trafalgar Square in 1990, and the riot against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in 1994; the actions of the Animal Liberation Front involving arson attacks in the early 1990s; some of the excesses witnessed at the direct action campaigns against the Newbury bypass, the Exeter-Honiton A30 extension scheme, the Twyford Down cutting and the Manchester Airport extension in the mid-to-late 1990s.
o Actions which harm other members of the public are often counter-productive like tube strikes or teacher or doctor axtions which hit parents and patients.
d. Expertise and Civil Service contacts
o The strength and frequency of contacts with the Civil Service is another aspect of the power and influence of groups. On the whole, established groups prefer to have a continuous, quiet influence on the process of Government rather than an intermittent and noisy impact based on the use of media publicity and the staging of public demonstrations.
o They use their reliable and frequent contacts with Whitehall and the expertise of their own professional staff to influence Ministerial decisions and the detailed content of legislation. In such cases resorting to widely publicised campaigns is almost an admission of failure.
o A number of groups secure official representation on advisory committees established within the orbits of Whitehall Departments and in this way are able to support and monitor the detailed aspects of policy implementation. This gives them:
· extra status and recognition in Whitehall
· rights of access to Ministers when the need arises
· and opportunities for consultation and influence not available to others outside the charmed circle of customary consultative arrangements in central Government.
o The classic case has probably been the relationship between the Road Transport Federation, the principal lobby group for the road freight interest, and the Department of Transport which, until a shift of policy in 1994, had consistently pushed ahead with the road building programme seemingly in defiance of the Treasury, the competing railway lobby and the general environmental interest. Another example would be the Prison Reform Trust, which has established a niche role despite having neither a large membership nor significant financial resources; the Home Office always consults the Trust when considering policy on prisons.
e. Publicity value
o The publicity traditionally secured by the Child Poverty Action Group for poor families with children or by Shelter for the homeless was beneficial to those particular sections of society, at any rate as long as Ministers were either sympathetic to their arguments or embarrassed into action
o In the early 1980s the Campaign for Lead-Free Air (CLEAR) was able to make considerable headway towards achieving its goal as a result of the publicity arising first from the leaking of a letter from the Government's Chief Medical Officer to the effect that lead in petrol was permanently reducing the IQ of many children, and then from the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution which confirmed the dangers to children and called for the banning of lead in petrol.
o In 1998 the Countryside Alliance not least via a march through London which drew an estimated 250,000 people raised the profile of a whole range of rural concerns, placing the countryside firmly on the political agenda.
f. Financial power
o Not even the most lavishly funded campaigns achieve their objectives simply because they can out-spend their opponents - as the billionaire Sir James Goldsmith found in 1997 when he spent £20 million and failed in his efforts to secure a referendum on Britain's future in the European Union. Whatever the reasons, it is difficult to point to any occasions when money on its own has bought success for a pressure group.
o However, the discussion of the Marxist view of pressure groups points to many examples of the influence of wealth. During Neil Hamilton's libel suit against Mohamed al-Fayed and the Guardian, a Mobil executive testified that Hamilton, then on the Commons Finance Committee, demanded cash for defending the oil company's positions. The executive was 'horrified', as Mobil had legitimately approached Hamilton without thought of payment. Nevertheless, the firm suggested the payment be invoiced as a consulting fee, though 'The reality was that we were buying off Mr Hamilton for what he had done, in connection with this tax issue.'
o In what must be the most stunning - and unreported - statement of the trial, Mobil's barrister informed its executive that 'This was the normal course of things for some MPs who did ask for payment.' Really? Which other MPs? And how much? And which other companies received bills from 'Parliamentarians-R-Us'? Most important, is this still business as usual?
o During the long period of Conservative rule from 1979 until 1997, critics of the Government argued that its health policy was undermined by the financial and political power of the tobacco industry which successfully resisted pressures for a complete ban on all tobacco advertising.
g. Voting power
o Trade union influence on the Labour Party stems from the fact that the creation of the Labour Party at the end of the nineteenth century was largely the work of the trade unions and ever since then trade union influence within the wider movement was often significant and occasionally decisive. However, in the 1990s the links between the Labour Party and the trade unions became the focus of considerable debate, and there was even some talk of a 'friendly divorce'. Nonetheless, the connection is one of the defining links in British politics, and although it has changed and may change further, it is doubtful that it will be ended. The Labour Party therefore has to keep in mind this relationship and its commitment to the minimum wage reflects this connection.
o Groups like senior citizens – now with their own union – have considerable voting party as was shown in Gordon Brown’s 2001 budget.
h. Historical Circumstances and the Party in Power
o After 1979 Conservative ministers did not seek cooperation of trade unions for an incomes policy and privatised many government-owned industries. After 1979 there was more conflict between interest groups, largely in the public sector, and the Conservative government than at any other period in the post-war era. Three factors may explain this:
§ The Thatcher government made no secret of its wish to change the direction of policy in much of the public sector. Groups which have an interest in the status quo were therefore likely to be offended.
§ Ministers wished to constrain the growth of public spending on many services and to reduce state subsidies; again, it is not surprising that interests dependent on such expenditure, notably on health, social welfare, education, and local government, complained.
§ Ministers, finally, took seriously claims that the authority of an elected government should not be compromised by bargains with sectional interests, particularly the trade unions. School teachers found that a core curriculum, national testing of pupils, and a contract of service was imposed on them. In 1989 the doctors had new contracts imposed on them by the Ministry of Health. These limit their budgets and link a greater part of their pay to the number of patients they treat. In 1989 the Lord Chancellor proposed changes to the legal profession, notably ending the barristers' exclusive rights of audience in the higher courts and the solicitors' monopoly conveyancing services.
New Labour and pressure groups
o New Labour relationships with the unions promised to be less close than under previous Labour Administrations but also closer than those of the previous Conservative Governments. New Labour made manifesto promises attractive to the unions including a statutory minimum wage, the signing of the European Social Chapter and the promise of union recognition where the majority of the work force vote for a union to represent them. Moreover, despite the reduction of their role, the unions' influence within the party remained considerable and they contributed £11 million to the party's election campaign. By early 1998, the Labour Government had pleased the unions by signing the Social Chapter, removing the ban on unions at GCHQ, and setting up a Low Pay Commission to examine the minimum wage
o New Labour made a determined pre-election effort to reassure business and where possi