Pressure Groups and Democracy 2
Do PGs enhance or hinder democracy?
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Pressure Groups and Democracy 2
Pressure Groups & Democracy
PGs & Democracy (1)
• Modern democracy can be described as ‘participatory’. This means that today
people expect to a much greater extent to be able to take a more active part in
politics, especially group politics and single issues.
• Participation in this context suggests that people expect to be consulted and to be
able to express views through a variety of forums, and believe they should be able to
hold politicians to account more directly (not merely through Parliament).
• It is expected in modern democracy that power should be dispersed. Dispersal
means geographical decentralisation, which has been achieved to some extent
through devolution. Dispersal also means within the decision-making community
itself. This means dispersing power away from narrow government and party
• There has been a communications revolution. People now are better informed and
better able to communicate with government and with each other.
PGs & Democracy (2)
• The modern ‘rights culture’ means that minorities can expect to be
protected and to have their views and interests taken into account in
• The UK used to be said to be a ‘party democracy’ or ‘parliamentary
democracy’. These are now false descriptions, in that power has
moved. Possibly ‘pluralist democracy’ is a better description.
• It could be argued that the nature of Parliament is changing,
especially the House of Lords. Parliament used to be dominated by
parties, and both MPs and peers were seen as largely impotent. Today
both MPs and peers see their role increasingly in terms of the
representation of interests.
PGs & Democracy
• They are key vehicles for the demands of groups of citizens, especially with the declining
importance of parties .
• Groups represent minorities and so can represent their interests and demands, but also can
protect their interests.
• Pressure groups provide opportunities for citizens to become active in politics. Many do not
wish to devote the time or commitment necessary for being a party activist. Pressure groups
offer a less committed form of participation. It is also important as participation in political
parties has declined.
• They have a key educative and socialising function. They inform the public about political
issues and about the variety of interests and demands in society.
• Pressure groups can improve the quality of democracy. They provide information for government
(Friends of the Earth, the CBI) and ensure that the views of citizens are known, and can
act as a vital part of consultative democracy.
• On a very general level pressure groups are seen as a vital protection against the power of the
state. They are a key part of civil society. An independent civil society can give citizens alternative
forms of allegiance so they cannot be excessively dominated by the state. It can be noted
that a common feature of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes is that they either destroy
civil society or seek to control it.
PGs & Democracy
• Pressure groups may produce disproportionate representation. In other words, some pressure
groups may wield a disproportionate amount of influence (e.g. rich business groups), while others
may have disproportionately little influence (e.g. trade unions, which are now outsiders).
• Pressure groups are not politically accountable. This is in contrast to parties and politicians,
who will have to be responsible for their decisions. For example, environmental groups are
not accountable for the effects of their demands on industry and commerce. Anti-tax groups
do not have to consider the effect of lower taxes on vital public services.
• There are no guarantees that groups are internally democratic (i.e. they may not accurately
represent the views of their members). Trade unions are often accused (not necessarily with
justification) of misrepresenting their members. This accusation has also been made against
groups representing the professions.
• It may be that those groups with insider status are granted excessive influence (farmers and
business groups have been accused of this). Furthermore their influence is unaccountable in
that there is little public knowledge of their influence. Parliamentary and party politics, in contrast,
can be seen as more ‘open’.
Assess the view that pressure groups enhance
democracy more than parties do.
• The dispersal of power. But some groups may promote elitism and thus concentrate power
in fewer hands. Parties also disperse power through their large membership bases and by maintaining
close contacts with local communities.
• Informing and educating the electorate. But pressure groups are not politically accountable,
so the views and demands they promote may be unbalanced. Parties, on the other hand,
are accountable and promote complete programmes rather than single policies and ideas.
• Representing minorities. Sectional groups in particular are self-interested, whereas parties
have to develop programmes on behalf of the whole community.
• Pressure groups promote participation. Parties do too, though arguably less successfully
than in the past.
• Controlling the power of government. Arguably this role is better carried out in Parliament
and by opposition parties.
Refer also to the decline in membership of parties and in popular identification with party policies
compared to the growing number of pressure groups, mass membership of such groups, and the
growth in direct political activism by such groups. Note that smaller sectional groups represent
sections of society often ignored by parties.