Evaluate the extent to which Pressure Groups are a vital part of a representative democracy [30 marks]
Targets: Writing and Expression needs to be clearer
Interim conclusion, clearly addressing the set question needed at the end of every
The extent to which pressure groups - a group that tries to influence policy - are a vital part of a representative democracy can be assessed when taking into account the impact they hold on government, being absolutely necessary (vital). The system of representative democracy is one in which people elect representatives who take decisions on their behalf, these representatives can be removed in the next election if they have disregarded the wishes of their constituents. To uphold the beliefs of constituents between elections, pressure groups are - in theory - vital to upholding a representative democracy as they have the ability to cater for everyone at all times as well as compensating for the tyranny of the majority. However, in practice this has faults as the internal democracy of pressure groups as well as the increasing volumes of party membership allows the interpretation that pressure groups are not vital to representative democracy.
It can be argued that pressure groups are a vital part of a representative democracy due to their membership being open to all those that support their aim throughout the period of elections and thereby increasing political education. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was introduced on September 15th creating a mandatory five year period between general elections unless the Prime Minister calls a snap election with the support of 2/3rd of MPs or in event of a hung parliament. Therefore, in the term of Parliament pressure groups can bridge the gap between elections influencing government attitudes and policy in order to provide a voice to the entire population (not just the electorate) and so are vital to representative democracy. This is proven by pressure groups campaigning to have an impact after the June 2016 result on leaving the European Union and the triggering of Article 50 on 29th March 2017. The European Movement UK argues that UK citizens should retain their right for EU citizenship and likewise for existing EU citizens of the UK. A cause to which they believe the 16 million people who voted against Brexit have the democratic to retain, this aim is supported by the popularity of the group whom have 47 branches and by their lobbying for continued membership on 25th October 2017 which crowdfunded £52,000. The campaigning after the period of the European Union Referendum 2016 by pro-European Union pressure groups allows the voices of the 48.1% who voted remain to agree for the best compromise in Brexit through influencing secondary legislation. Likewise, as the electorate does not encompass sections of society such as under 18 year olds, prisoners and the mentally ill pressure groups allow the voicing of sections of society. The pressure group Shelter provide a platform for the rights of homeless citizens in the UK, with 238,000 twitter followers amongst them notable figures such as Jeremy Corbyn. As they cannot vote themselves Shelter demonstrate pressure on policy achieving success, such as that of the Homelessness Act 2002. In which it introduced an essential approach to homelessness prevention. This proves they are vital to including all areas of society left out in a general election mandate and so upholding that of a representative democracy. By bridging the gap between elections and influencing government due to public awareness and gaining the ear of government the electorate is widely educated. For instance, the media coverage surrounding pressure group influence and media coverage such as the anti-establishment group for the annual Million Mask March with expected 20,000 turnout. These groups decrease political apathy and instead allow the encouragement of influence of government policy, amplified by social media which can start fire brigade campaigns at significant pace as well as the evolution of New Social Movements. The variety of platforms of which pressure groups can impact society and the government mean they are vital to the workings of representative democracy as they cover all aspects of life, at all times and in all age categories better reflecting the needs of society.
A further way in which pressure groups are vital to the system of representative democracy is that they help compensate the tyranny of the majority. Through the electoral system, First Past the Post, the MP elected can win with a very small majority - such as North East Fife which was won by the SNP with a 2 vote margin - meaning that the viewpoints of the rest of the constituency are unrepresented for the rest of the term. The use of pressure groups to represent the views of the opposing constituents are crucial with keeping the beliefs of contrasting parties, allowing all constituents to be represented as in a true representative democracy. The tyranny of the majority is especially useful in smaller cases which would usually go under the radar of the public eye. Howard’s League campaigned to implement the European Court of Justice’s Human Rights ruling that prisoners should be allowed the right to suffrage. After 12 years campaigning the campaign achieved a degree of success, due to the circumstances of the time as Labour announced support, when ‘hundreds’ of prisoners on a 12 month sentence or less were granted the ability to vote. In a true democracy everyone has the right to a say on the policy that would effect them. This is provided in New Social Movements such as an increase in women rights and mothers rights. These social movements are emphasised through the use of social media and coverage in the press. They aim to not only influence policy but change in attitudes. The group, Pregnant Then Screwed organised the March of the Mummies to lobby against discrimination in the workplace against mothers in which 70,000 women have been forced out of their jobs due to pregnancy. The success of the protest is supported by the early day motion sponsored by Caroline Lucas supporting workplace rights. The pressure group influence allows the inference they are vital to a representative democracy by exposing injustices that would have gone unnoticed, especially due to the political climate of 2017 the government are fixated on Brexit and therefore without the use of pressure groups welfare issues would be neglected, thus pressure groups become vital to representative democracy. However, the argument that it would prevent a tyranny of the majority can be contradicted in practice as a tyranny of the minority may emerge. Dispersion of power is not always guaranteed creating bias to the groups which hold the ear of government. Crucially these lead to neglecting the principle that government policy should reflect the needs of society as a whole. Therefore, in theory pressure groups stop the tyranny of the majority making them important they are not vital as they do not extinguish their internal democratic system (such as the revolving door policy) and can hold a tyranny themselves, thus do not hold strong legitimacy.
A contradictory argument is that pressure groups are not vital to representative democracy due to the prevalence of elitist pressure groups rather than pluralist. The dispersion of power is not always attained. Think tank relationships such as the Policy Exchange, popular within Cameron’s Conservative government, cause influence in certain governments with bias towards party policy. The elitist system means that a policy community has close and continual communication with the pressure group allowing the inference that they are not vital to representative democracy as they merely side with the existing policy of party in charge, the insight they provide therefore does not reflect other views of society and so serves no purpose to upholding the representative, democratic right of the people. This is supported by the notion that the change in government means the change in the policy communities. Although, this could be perceived as consultation for and against a bill, making them representative of wider range of society’s views. These new policy communities will then be loyal to that existing party such as the IPPR who’s purpose is to invigorate leftwing thinking - so naturally would be out of favour in a Conservative government. However, since the MP expenses scandal emerging from 2009 after the 2008 Freedom of Information Act led to the criminal charges of several MPs including David Chaytor, Parliament has made a move towards transparency in government to eliminate the risk of public outrage. The introduction of new social movements and pressure group influence allows the inference that elitism is being subsided and a shift to a pluralist pressure group system meaning that pressure groups have become vital to democracy. However, the disproportionate system of influence is demonstrated within new social movements such as the Occupy Movement. Public outrage organised into the ‘we are the 99%’ Occupy protests worldwide reflected the public anger at social and economic inequality. Under the definition of representative democracy this would exert its influence on policy to prohibit the tax avoidance of corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon. However, corporations (as pressure groups themselves) have detrimental control over the economy. Even though they cause major public furore they navigate waivers to paying tax by the creation of jobs and contributions to the economy, such as Starbucks creating 800 jobs within 2012. This proved little success to the Occupy Movement and so proves they are not vital to representative democracy. Therefore, the most successful groups are those wealthiest and closest to government and so the elitism of pressure groups makes them dispensable in a representative democracy.
A further argument is that the increasing participation through party membership means that pressure group influence is not the only way in which government policy can be scrutinised. Other forms of representation, such as under 18’s being able to join political parties, means influence can be exerted under different systems in a more effective and vital way on representative democracy than that of pressure groups. Douglas Herd dubbed pressure group’s ‘strangling serpents’, rather than supporting government policy they stop effective running of government and so cannot represent the views of the whole of society, enforcing a tyranny of the minority. The BMA’s junior doctors strike over a lack of out of hours pay on Saturday work meant the April 26th and 27th walkouts held a ‘stangle’ hold over the workings of the NHS. The power held by one singular party does not consider the impact on the entire society forcing their beliefs on government disproportionately to the rest of the public. This means they are not reflective and vital in a representative democracy as they neglect all opinions, making pressure groups ego-tropic and not socio-tropic. Pressure group’s are also proven as more effective when the parties in parliament achieve a political consensus such as in the development of HS2. The circumstances of the time dictate the effectiveness of pressure groups and in times of turmoil are set aside. Therefore, if pressure groups are most successful when political ideologies are united the need for pressure groups should therefore be eradicated. Though this can be disagreed with as the purpose of a pressure group is to scrutinise policy. They should be vital in representative democracy no matter what the beliefs of the government are, due to public opinion changing. The use of different access points such as the judiciary and devolved assemblies leads to pluralism of pressure groups, becoming vital in the system of representative democracy. These can be disregarded in certain forms of pressure groups which achieve rapid success in fire brigade campaigns such as the Snowdrop Campaign which gained 750,000 signatures in 6 weeks. Participation and membership in pressure is then still vital to their own dynamic and that of a representative democracy. As this evolved from the tragedy of the Dunblane Massacre and transcended cross party lines greatest success became vital to a representative democracy as they instantly effected the government policy on handheld weapons. Furthermore, the development of different access points and pluralism with political party membership and select committees on the increase the vitality of pressure groups is less important as scrutiny and influence of the government can manifest in several forms.
In conclusion, pressure groups are an vital part of representative democracy in theory but not in practice as the principles of representative democracy and system of parliament hinder the effectiveness of pressure groups. Therefore, they are vital but due to the emergence of social media and growth in party membership these opportunities are becoming important in influencing policy but not vital unlike pressure groups. The principle way in which pressure groups uphold representative democracy is by bridging the gap between elections and allowing a voice to all sections of the population and thus influencing policy. Education also means that a wider electorate can influence policy in elections to come. Compensating the tyranny of the majority however has problems when taking into account the workings of parliament. In order to be vital pressure groups must be successful and as those who are most successful are the wealthiest, closest to government they present bias and unfair opportunities between all pressure groups like that of the BMA contrast to Greenpeace. Thus, in practice the bias and circumstances of the time make pressure groups important but not vital to representative democracy as they can create their own system of bias.