Pressure Groups

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To what extent have pressure groups changed in recent years?

A pressure group is an organised group that seeks to influence government policy, public opinions or protect or advance a particular cause or interest. Groups may promote a specific issue and raise it up the political agenda, represent a particular section in society or they may have more general political and ideological objectives in mind when they campaign. In this essay I am going to analyse the significant changes in the nature and activities of pressure groups that have occurred in recent years and use examples accordingly.

In recent times, the importance of the role of pressure groups has been increasing and is likely to continue to do so. A reason for this is the increasing participation in pressure group politics. Membership of pressure groups has been growing substantially whereas in contrast, membership of political parties has been declining. Therefore, this suggests that the general interest in politics has not decreased but the nature of interest and participation is rapidly changing as more people are becoming frustrated with the political parties and so they are turning to pressure groups that campaign for specific issues or causes. An example of this may be the Liberal Democrats Party which has lost support from some people because of its changing views relating to civil liberties. In order to be able to govern the country, the Liberal Democrats like all the other main political parties have had to adapt their policies and viewpoints such as their standpoint on civil liberties in order to gain approval and support of the public. In doing this, they have lost support of some people who believe that liberties and freedoms take precedence over everything else in a healthy and well-run society. These individuals have thus turned to pressure groups such as Liberty because they believe that this group represents the public's best interests in terms of liberties and that they are far superior to the political parties in implementing legislation protecting civil liberties. Overall, participation is a huge change in modern pressure groups as more and more people have shifted their political awareness away from party politics in favour of specific political issues such as civil liberties. Clearly, pressure groups provide a more appropriate vehicle for such interest than in contrast to parties.

Another huge change seen in pressure groups is the fact that there are many more 'access points' now than compared to previous times. Before, it used to be the case that pressure groups concentrated the vast majority of their efforts and time on governmental institutions such as Parliament or on significant political figures such as ministers. But policy-making in modern day Britain has completely evolved as it has become spread over a much wider range of institutions such as the European Union. The growing influence and jurisdiction of the European Union is perhaps the most obvious example of the increasing amount of access points available to pressure groups. Pressure groups now direct most of their activities to the European Commissions, these are a number of committees that are designed to develop policies. Therefore pressure groups seeking to influence decision-making are inclined to send increasing numbers of representatives to the European Parliament and its policy-making committees. Interestingly, in 2010 there were more than 4400 pressure group representatives attached to the European Parliament. Secondly, pressure groups have understood and realised that they might have more success if they unite with their European counterparts to exert effective pressure on decision-making committees. This has resulted in the development of a increasing number of 'federated' groups in Europe. This essentially means that different pressure groups that have similar or exactly the same views on particular issues have amalgamated into one European-wide institution. A...
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