Do pressure groups enhance or threaten democracy?

August 18, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

Divergent arguments exist to suggest whether pressure groups enhance or threaten democracy, the process of politics and of policy making. Some argue that pressure groups are essential to democracy, a vital factor in deciding whether a country is truly a liberal democratic state. Others argue that the way they work and operate has little to do with democracy and in fact makes worse the in balance of power in the political system and inhibits the operation of Government. A pressure group can be defined as any organized group that does not put up candidates for election, but seeks to influence govt. policy, local govt. policy or even the policy of a political party. They seek to represent the interests of particular sections of society in order to influence public policy.

General elections are too infrequent to be the sole means to influence policy. Once every 4-5 years is an inadequate public input and does not make the political system very democratic. However General Elections are not the be all and end all of the public’s right to influence govt. This is where pressure groups come into play they seek to influence government throughout the term in office until their cause is met making the system more democratic. On top of this a limited choice exists in reality as to who should govern the country as the Labour and Conservative parties dominate politics in England. This means that there are a lot of unaired views and the only way that these can be properly expressed is via pressure groups, leading to them enhancing democracy. A vote for a political party does not mean you agree 100% with 100% of their policies; pressure groups fulfill roles that the inadequacies of General Elections provide. An example of such is the landslide victory the Labour party had in the 1997 elections. Many people voted for Labour not because they supported all their policies but because they wanted the Conservative party out.

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Pressure groups are arguably a check on Government leading to them enhancing democracy, they can be considered as a safety valve for democracy. With a very powerful executive in the UK and a limited Commons/Lords etc pressure groups equal a vital check. A pressure group may already exist or be formed and seek to influence the government on a new policy; this leads them to be a check on government. Not all actions undertaken by political parties are in their manifestoes and public opinion needs to be heard. Pressure groups fulfill this role of the public opinion creating a more democratic society.

On the other hand pressure groups can be seen as to threaten democracy, as pressure groups often operate in a very undemocratic and unrepresentative way in how they work internally. This refers mainly to outsider pressure groups as insider pressure groups are not allowed to behave in such a way, if they intend to stay an insider. They are seen to threaten democracy as they rarely elect their leadership, rarely vote on policy and in some cases arguably mislead their members ( e.g. the RAC & AA recruit members who wish to gain a service they need, the fact that they then use members money to influence govt. policy on roads, tax petrol etc. would come as a surprise to members!).

The power and influence of pressure groups is not dependent on their level of popular support or any other democratic methods but on their ability to organize, their role in society, the position of its individuals in society and whether a Government wishes to listen. E.g. the NFU is very influential in the Ministry of Agriculture, but the interests of consumers of food are not represented at all. This does not lead there to be much democracy overall.

Government would argue the case that they should spend their time governing, they place their policies to the electorate (pressure groups do not). They have the legitimate right to decide policy gained this right is gained via the ballot box. Pressure groups provide an unnecessary input that is undemocratic. Time that could be spent on creating and updating policies is spent dealing with pressure groups which leads them to threaten democracy. Due to 75%+ of the population voting in general elections; it still is the primary form of political participation. Pressure groups membership is a minority of the population and deciding/influencing policy thus is not right in the eyes of the government.

Overall I believe that pressure groups play an essential role in enhancing democracy if it were not for them checks and balances would not properly be carried out. On top of this the point for pressure groups enhancing democracy greatly out weigh the points saying it threatens democracy.

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