Unit 1 – Pressure groups and Elitism

The following article from The Guardian’s George Monbiot provides ample evidence of support for the view that far from widening access to power, pressure group activity often seeks to concentrate power in the hands of a tiny minority of privileged elites. This meticulously researched and referenced piece reveals very close connections between politicians, lobbyists, corporate interests and therefore lends strong support to the elitist side of the debate as to whether pressure group activity promotes a wide plurality in the distribution of power (the pluralism argument) or in fact promotes a much more narrow concentration of power. Monbiot’s excellent analysis is clearly geared towards making the case for pressure group activity promoting elite dominance of our systems of governance and in effect echoes the points I have been making in my teaching just this week with reference to his 2000 work Captive State: The Corporate Takeover of Britain.

Any essay on pluralism v elitism such as this one from June 2015 Do pressure groups concentrate or distribute power? would clearly benefit from looking at the thrust of Monbiot’s argument and incorporating some of the arguments and evidence he presents in favour of a concentration of power. Similarly any question on whether PGs promote or undermine democracy could use this piece as a base for the claim that democracy is undermined by PG activity.

If we recall our definitions of pluralism and elitism these would be useful points to begin with before looking at both sides of the argument.  

Pluralism refers to the distribution and the diversification of power within the political system in different hubs/centres – regional, local, national, international) Pluralism is characterised by a wide spread of power. In the political process, pluralism promotes a forum for debate and scrutiny between competing groups in society. In regards for citizens to participate in the political process, pluralism allows individuals to be represented by various parties, pressure groups or new social movements. In the UK there are an estimated 7000+ pressure groups, a clear expression of a diverse distribution of power. This can be seen due the reason that in an ideally pluralist democracy, groups have more or less equal access to the political process.  Pluralism implies a range of  groups and pressure groups are both sectional (trade unions and business groups) and promotional (environmental and welfare groups) representing a plurality of groups, causes and issues.

Elitism – Elitism is the theory that political power is concentrated in the hands of the few, an elite. Power is held to be narrowly concentrated in the hands of wealthy corporations, privileged social classes and professional politicians and bureaucrats who share a similar usually conservative social outlook. Power is thus exercised in the self interest of the elite. Elite groups enjoy frequent contact and consultation with Ministers, Civil Servants and Parliament. IPGs ordinarily consist of a small and limited amount of members, most of which are hidden from the public eye. Example of this would be the BAA, BBA, CBI, NFU, BMA. Former Cameron advisor Steve Hilton has criticised the lack of democracy and corporate dominance over government and parliament. Insiders commonly have access to huge financial resources and legal expertise. Corporate donations to political parties- hedge funds estimated to have donated £47m in five years to the Conservative Party.

Here Monbiot is providing us with a goldmine of information supporting the undermining democracy/promoting elitism side of the argument. 

click on the image below to access the article

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