Pressure groups are groups of like minded individuals who come together on the basis of shared interests or a commonly held cause in order to put pressure on policy makers at Westminster and beyond. Pressure groups are significantly more numerous than political parties because whereas the parties tend to aggregate and accommodate a wide range of views in an effort to see their candidate elected to public off, pressure groups have a tendency to fragment opinion. Recent years have seen the emergence of looser social movements and more focused single-issue groups, replacing larger, more traditional groups as a fundamental change in the nature of political participation in the UK – as the emergence of a so-called new pressure group politics.
Cause groups also referred as promotional groups or pubic interest groups, cause groups seek to promote approaches, issues or ideas that are not of direct benefit to group members. Cause groups tend to be ‘inclusive’, in that they generally look to establish a wide membership base and do not put in place as many barriers to entry.
One cause which may mean pressure groups have to use different methods in their attempt to influence government is the classification by group status. The resulting insider-outsider typology largely sees group success as a function of the extent to which any given group is able to develop secure, positive relationships with politicians and officials.
Insider groups enjoy closer and more positive relationships with those in government are insider groups. Those that have particularly strong two-way relationships with policy-makers across a broad range of issues are described as core insiders. Those granted such status within a more narrow, area of expertise are known as specialist insiders. Third group peripheral insiders are those who have access to, but are only rarely needed by, the government due to the narrow nature of their interest or cause.
Groups that work outside of the ‘political loop’ are referred to as outsider groups. Those, which might one day gain insider status, but have not yet established good working relationships with those in government, are referred to as potential insiders. Outsider by necessity are those groups that are forced to operate as outsiders because they are unlikely to ever achieve insider status – perhaps due to the nature of their cause or as a consequence of their preferred methodology, The term ideological outsiders refer to those groups that prefer to distance themselves from the government for reasons or ideology.
The nature of pressure group activity is greatly dependent upon the scope and extent of groups aims and objectives. Pressure groups can make use of a range of access points. These groups whose aims are local and limited in scale may be able to achieve their goals without ever needing to engage with government at Westminster.
Broader based environmental groups will, in contrast, need to work at local, national and supranational levels in order to achieve their core aims.
Many groups still favour traditional methods, such as letter writing campaigns, petitions, public demonstrations and conventional lobbying.
The anti-abortion organisation Life Complied a petition of more than 2 million names in the mid-1980s and complied postcard campaigns in 1989 and 1990 in opposition to the bill with ultimately became the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.
Marches and demonstrations organised by the Anti-Poll Tax Federation in 1990 were said to have contributed both to Margaret Thatcher’s downfall and to the subsequent replacement of the community charge with the council tax in 1993. Over 400,000 supporters of the Countryside Alliance were said to have taken part in the group’s Liberty and Livelihood march in September 2002. An estimated 1 million took to the streets in February...