Politics

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A good example of pressure group methods

Mike McCartney

3rd February 2021

The case of UsForThem

A quick recap. How do pressure groups seek to influence government?

It is best to describe methods in relation to the different types of group:

  • Insider groups work largely within government. They seek to have places on policy committees and units, they provide regular written reports, often showing research findings (environment and business groups are examples), give evidence to parliamentary committees and try to arrange meetings directly with ministers and civil servants. They may also become directly involved in the drafting of legislation (e.g. the national Consumer Council or the Law Commission).
  • Outsider groups – usually promotional groups – largely seek to mobilise public opinion. They do this to place their issues on the public and political agenda. They also try to persuade policy makers that many people support the issue and that the government may gain votes by supporting the group (note Help the Aged with its huge section of supporters) Typically they organise media campaigns (Marcus Rashford and school meals), organise public demonstrations (Extinction Rebellion) and may use stunts which gain publicity (Stop HS2) - the latter can also be categorised as direct action.
  • Sectional groups usually seek insider status. They may also take direct action – notably trade unions who organise strikes and other industrial action. Important groups in society such as the police or doctors and nurses may threaten non-compliance with new policies.
  • Some groups, often promotional, may operate outside the law. Examples are the Animal Liberation Front or Greenpeace. They hope to gain publicity in this way.

So this brings us to UsForThem.

As the Guardian reports:

‘It was set up eight months ago by three mothers in Cambridgeshire and has since established itself as an increasingly prominent voice campaigning for schools to fully reopen. Now UsForThem, which has also opposed some Covid safety measures in schools, has won the backing of 17 Tory MPs, and is growing.

As well as being advised by an influential Tory lobbyist, the group met twice with civil servants from the Department for Education (DfE) before key government decisions on coronavirus schools policy were made last year, the Guardian has learned.

It contrasts with fruitless attempts for Whitehall meetings by another grassroots parents’ groups lobbying from a different perspective. Parents United Against Unsafe Schools, whose Facebook group has 23,000 members as opposed to UsForThem’s 9,600 on its England Facebook group, said they have continually reached out to the DfE.

Meanwhile Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, responded six months ago to an UsForThem petition on Change.org calling for masks not be made compulsory in schools, which has gained 16,588 signatures. He has yet to respond to a Parents United for Safe Schools petition with 288,294 signatories, which asks that parents are not fined if they decide against sending their children to school.

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UsForThem is being advised by Ed Barker, a former Tory parliamentary candidate and Westminster PR man who played a key role in Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign. He is also advising the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, members of which have backed the UsForThem bid to fully reopen schools.

A press release put out by Barker on Monday said that six more Tory MPs, including Steve Baker MP, deputy chair of the CRG, were backing the campaign, meaning it is now supported by 17 Conservatives.’

See: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/26/group-campaigning-for-uk-schools-to-reopen-wins-backing-of-17-tory-mps

So we can safely say that this is an insider group, according to Wyn Grant’s typology, and is a really good example to use in A Level answer when looking at methods. Whether it serves as a good example of the success of pressure groups, well we’ll just have to wait and see.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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