Monday, March 17, 2014

Pressure Groups Update for AS Students

38 Degrees – A very modern pressure group

One of the most active pressure groups in Britain at the moment is 38 Degrees, who are not limited to a single issue, and are thus a multi-cause group.  Their over-riding principle could probably be described as “people power”, and the desire to allow ordinary people the right to influence policy over a range of issues.  They have thus taken up a range of such issues.  Recent campaigns have included lobbying against the so-called Gagging Bill (more officially, the Lobbying Bill, designed to limit groups’ spending in elections by regulating such expenditure); gathering thousands of signatures to support MP Paul Burstow’s Commons amendment on hospital closures (which he then withdrew, to much criticism); action on flooding in the UK and data protection.  Success is varied – on the Lobbying Bill, for instance, they did not in the end gain the demise of the bill that they wanted. 

The 38 Degrees website is a comprehensive one, describing campaigns, blogging on their progress (good or bad) and giving a good overview of the group’s actions.  Nevertheless, they are in danger of being seen more as a centre-left political action group than a genuine pressure group, especially given the multi-faceted nature of their issue coverage which differentiates them from most single-issue pressure groups.  The website politics.co.uk carries a podcast which questions the basis on which 38 degrees selects its campaigns.  The podcast acknowledges 38 Degrees’ success in mobilizing public support, but asks whether it is simply focusing on left-wing causes, and thus even acting as a left-wing spamming organization?  One of the reasons for this latter accusation is that 38 Degrees stands as a strong example of internet activism, in that they claim over a million supporters, not least through internet and social media mobilization.  They are, perhaps, the epitome of a very modern pressure group.

High Speed Rail

The government’s High Speed Rail project (HS2) continues to make news.  Today, its new chairman, David  Higgins, is reported as urging speedier action on getting HS2 into the North.  His comments, extensively reported here, (with responses being followed here), are undoubtedly a response to the strong support being given to HS2’s opponents.  The HS2 Action Alliance has been very successful in getting news coverage and opinion formers to articulate opposition to the HS2 plan, with Peter Mandelson leading the current charge against it that it will not benefit the North as its proponents claim.  To date, however, the Conservatives remain committed to the project, although Labour’s Ed Balls has indicated they would thing again if elected.

When Businesses Collide

Chancellor George Osborne is facing the problem of strong influence from two competing sectors of the energy industry over his plan to curb his proposed carbon tax.  This government came to power committed to green taxes, and their coalition partners are equally supportive.  Nevertheless, the non-‘green’ companies have a significant advantage in the battle against taxes – they control consumer bills.  What is currently persuading Osborne to back down on his carbon tax pledge is the prospect of increased consumer bills.  The Renewable Energy Association may hate the fact that this could imperil the development of green energy sources, but the fact is that nothing concentrates the mind of a politician as much as the electorate’s spending costs – and few leaders want to increase those.

Spreading the Message

Pressure Groups and trade associations will use any method they can to spread their message, and one opportunity is to use the burgeoning number of websites to do so.  Internet democracy is also a free noticeboard for organisations, and one example is the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, who have taken the opportunity of the website politics.co.uk’s ‘Opinion Formers’ page to advertise their concerns about cheaper bread.  Their article and video are here.

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