In the News
Sunak (and Starmer) court the CBI
Good example of pressure group power
Pressure groups can be classified in various ways. But in relation to power and influence, the key distinction is between insiders and outsiders.
- 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. 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.
Clearly the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) are a key insider. Such is their power that the leaders of the two main parties actively seek to gain their support. We used to talk of "tripartism" in the 1970s, a term used to describe the close relationship between governments, big business (largely represented by the CBI), and trade unions. That is until in the 1980s Mrs Thatcher steered a course of policy making where, according to Greenwood, "the era of beer and sandwiches at Number 10 was over". He also said, "and for that matter, wine and pate." But with hindsight it was clear that the influence of business rose, and the influence of the unions declined. Since then, Labour leaders, whether in or out of Downing Street have tended not to try to reverse the trend (the exception being Corbyn).
Don't forget, marching, striking, hanging banners off the side of bridges and so on, are a sign of weakness, not a sign of strength. No need for the CBI to thaw cans of tomato soup at a painting by a Dutch master. This is not to say that direct action is completely futile, but does always surprise when students in exams write that it is a very successful method.