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Pressure Groups: Helping or Hindering Democracy?

Pressure Groups: Helping or Hindering Democracy?

Pressure groups come in all shapes and sizes. Some are local groups, campaigning against a small issue, whereas others are international groups, working towards change for a specific group of society. They have a wide range of methods - some partake in peaceful protests, whilst other cause riots and violence, some lobby MPs, and others write letters to the press. Each individual method or aim affects how successful the pressure group is, and how well they enhance democracy.
Pressure groups increase public participation, as well as providing a platform for everyone to access government and convey their opinions on proposed policies. Pressure groups also allow a pluralist society, as the government can gauge an idea of what changes the public want to be made, based off what issues they are campaigning for/against, and how many people are involved in the campaign.

Some pressure groups represent an extraordinary amount of people, with thousands of supporters. Many groups have more followers than political parties, for example, the RSPB has over 1 million members, and The National Trust has over 3.7 million members, whereas the Conservative Party only has around 150,000 members! Having such an extensive membership allows the groups to raise issues amongst a large section of the population, which creates a domino effect, and the message has soon circulated around millions of people. Having a large following also means the pressure groups often receive funding and financial support, allowing them to campaign more effectively.
Certain pressure groups have backing from public figures and celebrities which enhances their media coverage. Jamie Oliver has openly been involved in various campaigns, including in 2005 when he fronted a campaign for healthier school meals, called ‘Feed Me Better.' Due to his expertise and knowledge, the campaign was much more convincing and successful, as the petition collected 271,677 signatures, and was then delivered to No 10 Downing Street on 30 March 2005. The campaign became front page news and government announced a massive cash injection for school meals.

The final way in which pressure groups enhance democracy is the fact that they are able to help government understand what issues are important and popular amongst the public, as well as helping for inform other members of the public. AllOut - a pressure group working for international LGBT rights - has captured public and government attention recently, due to their clever advertising the methods. The groups produce online petitions, YouTube videos and stage events such as flash mobs, which anyone can easily get involved in. Due to the ease and simplicity of joining pressure groups, many more people are likely to take part and choose the issues which directly affect them.
However, pressure groups do have some faults, some which even restrict enhancing democracy. The biggest problem is that they do not have to be held accountable, unlike political parties, which sometimes leads to them exploiting their powers, acting illegally or promoting civil disobedience.

Insider groups have an unfair advantage over outsider pressure groups, as they have direct access to MPs, Civil Servants or Lords. A few groups are even consulted by the government before decisions are made. On the other hand, outsider groups do not have the same access which means they sometimes turn to illegal or violent methods, in order for their voice to be heard. One group who often turn to extreme methods is Animal Liberation Front (ALF) who have damaged scientific animal testing labs, threatened workers and their families and even in one case, a few of the members were arrested after planting a firebomb on one of the testers doorsteps. The violence of these groups is what always gets the media's attention, and it takes away from the peaceful protestors and unfairly represents the group as a whole.

Furthermore, pressure groups tend to be biased towards their interests, and they don't always consider the other sides of the argument. For example, some may argue that Fathers 4 Justice were one-sided during their campaigning, and perhaps didn't consider the views of the mothers, or the courts, but purely their own. Some could consider this to be a selfish approach towards campaigning, and it goes against the aims of democracy, as it doesn't promote freedom for everyone's views and opinions.

Occasionally, pressure groups stand for issues which only affect a small number of people, rather than campaigning for what is best for the nation. Many Anti-Heathrow expansion groups caused major problems after the proposed third runway, including one group who hosted a ‘die in' at one of the terminals. This caused a great deal of upheaval for hundreds of travellers, although only about 100 people were protesting. Pressure groups certainly should have the right to protest, however, it becomes unfair when these protests disrupt others.
Overall, pressure groups with a large amount of public support, financial backing and a clear aim can certainly help to enhance democracy, as they are often very influential and lead to the government making changes or improvements, with public opinion in mind. However there are certain ways in which pressure groups can exploit their abilities, sometimes resulting in violent and undemocratic actions, and this often happens due to the loophole that pressure groups cannot be held accountable for their actions.

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