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PRESSURE GROUPS AND PLURALIST DEMOCRACY Revision.

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Presentation on theme: "PRESSURE GROUPS AND PLURALIST DEMOCRACY Revision."— Presentation transcript:

1 PRESSURE GROUPS AND PLURALIST DEMOCRACY Revision

2 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

3 What is a Pluralist Democracy?  The key issue is to what extent the UK is a pluralist democracy?

4 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 decision- making is democratic

5 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

6 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

7 How far is the UK a pluralist democracy?  Opposing pressure groups compete openly – pro- smoking group FOREST conflicts with anti-smoking ASH; Countryside Alliance conflicted with anti- hunting 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 campaignswww.avaaz.org

8 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

9 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.

10 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

11 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”

12 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.

13 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

14 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.


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