PRESSURE GROUPS AND PLURALIST DEMOCRACY Revision What is a Pluralist Democracy? A form of liberal democracy in which power is widely dispersed Citizen participation occurs through pressure groups (as opposed to voting in elections) Pressure group membership allows people to promote diverse views, interests and grievances to the government The term can describe an existing system or present a desirable alternative (to parliamentary democracy in the case of the UK) The UK could not be described as a fully pluralist democracy, though it has clear elements of one What is a Pluralist Democracy? The key issue is to what extent the UK is a pluralist democracy? Key features of a pluralist democracy Wide variety of political parties, associations and pressure groups – different political beliefs are allowed to thrive and there are multiple, independent sources of information Wide dispersal of power among competing groups – power is not concentrated in an elite (though groups need not be equal in power) High level of internal responsiveness within groups – leaders are accountable to members and decisionmaking is democratic Key features of a pluralist democracy Open competition for all groups in the political process – no single group can exclude any other Impartial government – responsive to outcomes of competing pressure group activity How far is the UK a pluralist democracy? The UK does have numerous and varied pressure groups (estimates vary, but the number of groups is in the thousands – one source says 7,000) Governments accept existence of these groups – some are highly involved in decision making Pressure groups educate the public – awareness of health issues such as smoking and obesity have been promoted by pressure groups, as has domestic violence How far is the UK a pluralist democracy? Opposing pressure groups compete openly – prosmoking group FOREST conflicts with anti-smoking ASH; Countryside Alliance conflicted with antihunting groups Pressure groups use digital democracy to enhance pluralism – 38 Degrees, international organisation Avaaz (www.avaaz.org) both use this means to raise petitions and campaigns How far is the UK a pluralist democracy? BUT Financial power and large memberships give some groups considerably more influence – trade unions with regards to Labour; the CBI for both parties The division of insider groups with influence, and outsider groups without, suggest a clear demarcation of power Many pressure groups do not exercise responsive leadership, including prominent ones such as Greenpeace How far is the UK a pluralist democracy? Hostile public opinion can restrict pressure group influence (note here also the influence of the media) – Republic operates in a climate where 80% of people favour retention of the monarchy Much evidence thus suggests that pressure group activity is actually elitist in the UK, and does not conform to the strict definition of a pluralist democracy Our parliamentary system is strong enough to be able to ignore the demands of a wide range of pressure groups if it chooses. Functional Representation Refers to a community that is divided into several strata (or layers) Each strata has a certain corporate unity and holds that it should be represented in government Citizens can, or should, be represented according to their membership of economic or social groups While the UK does not merit this description, discussions of a reformed House of Lords have suggested this form of representation as one option Functional Representation Pressure groups are thus the main source of functional representation in the UK This is largely through sectional groups (eg trade unions, professional associations) Groups can articulate their demands and preferences between elections Groups protect special interests regardless of changing political climate or election results Representation of minority groups safeguards against “tyranny of the majority” Functional Representation Popular dissatisfaction with traditional politics and politicians has led to a resurgence of interest in functional representation – teaching unions and the BMA both feel a need to remind government of the interests of their practitioners against a hostile governing class We are, however, a long way from having a formal functionally representative system Pressure groups thus allow for elements of both pluralist democracy and functional representation to exist in a parliamentary system that is based on territorial representation. Elitism and Pressure Groups Elitism suggests an unequal distribution of power in society, favouring a small group of influential or powerful people over the majority Various factors might promote such elitism – wealth and social status are two Elitism assumes a ‘power struggle’ in political society Applied to pressure groups, elitism suggests some pressure groups are more powerful than others It contradicts a pluralist theory of democracy Like pluralism, elitism is a way of defining the distribution of political power in a society; it is applied to pressure groups as they seek to exercise power in society Insider Groups Insider groups rarely have permanent insider status Key groups often seen as ‘insider’ have recently been unable to exercise decisive influence on policy affecting them – eg BMA with NHS changes, Bar Association with legal aid cuts, Howard League with removal of books from prisoners, Police Federation with regards to police reform promoted by Theresa May.