STUDENT NUMBER: 178421732 – EMAIL: [email protected]
UNIVERSITY OF BRIGHTON
COURSE: EC119 UNDERSTANDING CONTEMPORARY BRITAIN I
ASSESSMENT: PRODUCING AN INDIVIDUAL DOCUMENT OF NOT MORE THAN 1500 WORDS SUMMARIZING SOME OF THE CHANGES AND/OR CONTINUITIES IN CONTEMPORARY BRITAIN THAT YOU FIND MOST INTERESTING AND/OR IMPORTANT.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
PURPOSE The purpose of this paper is to analyse which is the role of the pressure groups in the United Kingdom, analysing how they are influencing the politics and the national system, and how their function has been changing over the years.
DEFINITION AND INFORMATION First of all, for better understanding the topic, it is necessary to define what pressure groups are. According to Güney (2014), the group pressures are special interest groups act in an organized manner. More specifically, he stated that they are organised interest groups seeking to in?uence the decisions made by all three (legislative, executive, and judicial) branches of government regarding their particular concerns and priorities without offering candidates in elections or seeking to gain political power (Güney, 2014).
Several movement, associations, and group pressure were born in Britain and they have spread to other countries. Examples of them are the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), Save the Children, Oxfam, the World Wildlife Fund, and Amnesty International.
THE ROLE OF PRESSURE GROUPS Talking about the role of the pressure groups, a good definition could be that pressure groups allow people the opportunity to participate in democracy by being involved in social change without necessarily joining a political party (BBC, 2014). Furthermore, according to McCormick (2003), some groups have developed such a close relationship with government that they are routinely consulted on policy decisions. Other concrete roles of pressure groups, according with multiple sources, they are promoting discussion, debates and mobilise public opinion in important questions, performing a role in educating citizens, enhancing democratic participation, pluralism and diversity, raise and articulate issues (ethic), represent minorities, proposing changes.
Under some points of view, this vision of the pressure groups could be considered as a too positive version but at the same time it also true that it is difficult to find a unique definition that includes the role of every pressure group.
DATA According to the website of Ashbourne College Government & Politics, there are more than 7000 pressure groups in the United Kingdom and they involve multi-million of members (McCormick, 2003). As anticipated by the previous data, the numbers of pressure groups are really high, mostly if compared with the numbers of subscription that political parties have.
An example of this, as reported by Figure 2, taken from Grant article (2004), is the fact that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has more than the double of subscription that the three main parties in the United Kingdom. These data certificate that the pressure groups go over the political parties and over the ideologies. Pressure group are transverse to the political groups.
KIND OF PRESSURE GROUPS About the different kinds of pressure groups that exist, over the years different categorization have been theorized. A good description of this evolution it can be found in the Craig Smith (1987) article. For example, he cites the ones of Mckeinze, of Coxall, and of Marsh. However, in his article Craig Smith considers as best theory the one of Wotton, written in 1984. Following the Wotton’s scheme (Figure 1), the pressure groups are differentiated depending of two criteria: the grade of their political specialization and if their membership is closed or open. The four categories are: operational, expressive, representative, and finally propagational groups.
Even if it could be the doubt that this theory is outdated, this categorization can be found also on the BBC website, where although using different words, the Wotton’s theory is confirmed.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE PRESSURE GROUPS OVER THE YEARS Analysing how the pressure groups are evolved over the years and how the perception of them is changed, it is a data that the adhesion to them is increased over the years, so much that half the adult population is now a member of at least one group, and many people belong to multiple groups (Kavanagh, 2000). The reason of this can be founded in several factors. The first one, according to McCormick (2003), it is because voters have become disillusioned with the election and political parties. The second one is that the medium level of education over the years is become higher and this is one of the best predictors of group membership and activism (Grant, 2014). The third one, even if maybe apparently it could seem less effective, is the progressive use of social media that every association and group pressure do. Thanks to the social media is easier to involve the members and make them more participative, allowing them to create and share contents, feeling themselves more protagonist. About this fact, in the future a risk could be that the internet-based activity may simply encourage ‘slackitvism’ or ‘armchair activism (Grant, 2004) instead of involving them in the decisional process.
PRESSURE GROUPS IN ACTION IN UK Trying to see more concretely about what pressure groups do and how they perform in the United Kingdom system, it can be useful to cite some examples of their campaigns. About the different kind of mobilization that the group pressures organise, it can be found several examples of them on the web. A kind of campaign can be painting the walls and the railing with the faces of special cases, like in “Making the invisible visible” of Amnesty International UK a campaign of 2011 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXiO7a6Cbw4). Another kind of campaign could be a peaceful manifestation in visible place, like the manifestation of Greenpeace at the British Parliament against the use of the oil extraction in the Amazon Reef (www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcztS7Gt1ww). Finally, another kind of manifestation can be manifesting in the places where you are manifesting against, knowing that it could have consequences and issues with the police, like in this case, where the UK UNCUT group manifests against Vodafone (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VZqZvuYHXE).
Of course, beyond the manifestation the pressure groups do also more formal action, like pressure to journalist for asking them to write an article about themselves, writing letters and organsing meeting with political parties and politics, and finally also formal communication, like press release.
THE PRESSURE GROUPS GOVERNANCE About pressure groups it can be also interesting talking about their governance because not always is so transparent as maybe it should be. Pressure groups were often set up in such a way as to limit membership participation and allow control by an elite group. According to Grant (2004), the opportunity for participating are not a lot and also where members do have the opportunity to vote for the executive or on policy resolutions, turnout is often poor. There is a concern that groups are becoming less capable as democratic actors in their own right, with a greater role taken by professional staff.
THE FUTURE OF GROUP PRESSURE About the future of the group pressure and their influence in the UK system, it can be done several considerations. Firstly, probably pressure group will continue to be part of the political landscape and if the trend will continue to be the same they will become more powerful and with more subscription. At the same time, it will be interesting to see how they will fit into our understanding of democratic politics and what we might to do for ensuring that they adhere to the standards of transparency and accountability they and people demand of politicians (Grant, 2004).
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE Referring what I have written with my personal experience during this months in the United Kingdom and comparing it with Italy, I noticed that here the sense of belonging for the associations and group interest is high. People are proud to be part of them. At the same time, I noticed also that this common sense is more felt in the adults and less for the younger people. Even if, at the same time, often I have found stands of association on the streets that where sponsoring their group.
CONCLUSIONS In conclusion, group pressure represent a good opportunity for giving voice to the people and to people that normally would be unheard. At the same time, probably most of the group pressure would need to be more clear about their form of participation and their decisional methods.