British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 8 notes - Pressure Groups and Social Movements

Return to full list of chapter notes.
  • Pressure groups offer more scope for direct involvement in the political process than political parties.
  • Pressure groups may operate at various levels. Distinctions are commonly made between interest (or sectional or defensive) groups and cause (or promotional) groups, and between insider and outsider groups.
  • Insider groups may enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with government, although there may be a risk that groups get too close to government and become effectively emasculated. Government departments or agencies may sometimes be effectively captured by their client groups.
  • Groups may have a variety of targets, including ministers, civil servants, Parliament or the wider public. In the British political system influence on the executive is generally seen as more effective than influence on the legislature, although some policy areas can be exceptions.
  • A recent phenomenon has been the growth of broad, loosely organized ‘new social movements’ often involving the politics of direct action. Although these have generally been associated with the left, under the Labour government there was some increased use of direct action by groups and movements on the right.
  • While some claim that competition between countless pressure groups helps to disperse power (pluralism) and enhance democracy, others claim that group resources and influence are grossly unequal, and the system favours established interests. The New Right by contrast has argued that vested interests can interfere with free market forces, and encourage high government spending and taxation.