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Pressure group tactics spectacularly backfiring

Mike McCartney

22nd September 2021

Does M25 protestor Liam Norton walking off morning breakfast show GMB strengthen or damage the case of Insulate Britain - includes video

Pressure group tactics/methods and whether these contribute to success is a well worn topic.

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.

Generally using the media as a platform is a common route by pressure groups. This may be via advertising, getting reports published in the papers that highlight their cause (eg anti-poverty campaigners have been widely reported this week regarding the Proposed changes to Universal Credit), support from a high profile individual helps garner support (e.g. Joana Lumley and the rights of Gurkhas) and the aforementioned direct action is also a way to get in the papers/on the news.

So one would think that making the most of an opportunity to appear as a guest on a national TV programme would be too good an opportunity to miss. Well, have a look at the film below. The real action happens at about 10 minutes in.

I've put a poll on Twitter, and while it is early days, when asked does M25 protestor Liam Norton walking off morning breakfast show GMB strengthen or damage the case of Insulate Britain 80% think it has damaged it, with 18% thinking it has made no difference, and only 1% believing it has strengthened their cause.

Well, there you go.

Mike McCartney

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

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