This is an excellent story for those about to begin the study of Pressure Groups in the UK. The row over junior doctors’ pay has been going on for a while, bouncing back and forth between the Health Department and the BMA. However, focussing on the events of the last two weeks, it is a tour de force in the theory of this topic.
Firstly, in mid-October, around 20,000 protesters marched through London campaigning against the proposals from Jeremy Hunt at the Department of Health. This was a protest largely orchestrated by Dr Anna Warrington and was organised using social media, in this case Facebook. This is an astounding example of the impact that new social media is having on pressure group action – in fact given that this was not a march that was organised or endorsed by a traditionally set-up pressure group this could be seen as an example of a new social movement (NSM). The difference between a traditional pressure and a new social movement is crucial for students studying this topic and one of increasing importance. That such a large scale protest can be organised just using Facebook underlines the importance of these new tools to pressure groups. It also means that poorer pressure groups can be as successful as larger ones using such tools, perhaps reducing the importance of money in this topic.
Usually, groups organising such mass marches hope to achieve change by gaining attention for their cause – by having such a weight of public opinion showing up, this should gain publicity and the idea is that the government will then have to listen.
Coupled with this however are excellent examples of how else pressure groups can act. The British Medical Association, who represent many in the medical profession, have been consulting with the government over these contracts for a while now. Usually the BMA would be regarded as a ‘specialist insider’ group – one who provide key information to the government as experts in their field. However as these negotiations have somewhat stalled, the BMA are now balloting their members on taking strike action. This is a different form of pressure groups action and one designed to force the government to act by disrupting services.
What is most important about this story is that it could be used as a rare example of pressure group success. A good majority of pressure groups that most students study will have been unsuccessful. Those that are successful are often ‘quietly’ successful, influencing legislation in less public ways and therefore it is difficult to find evidence of their impact. In this instance, Jeremy Hunt announced a new offer to junior doctors today in the hopes of staving off strike action. Whether the offer is actually what doctors want remains to be seen but the fact the government is seen to be negotiating with them suggest some sense of a victory. However, with balloting on strike action due to begin tomorrow, perhaps it is no surprise therefore that Jeremy Hunt’s new contract offer has been released the day before!
Other pressure group methods have been used in this battle too. Today the Daily Mail carried a letter signed by 371 consultants in support of the junior doctors. While this could still be categorised as them simply trying to gain publicity, it is a good example of a pressure group using the media without pulling a stunt to do so. In this sense it is a very different use of the media.
For the Pressure Group topic in Unit 1 this is loaded with examples – examples of types of action, examples of use of social media, examples of the categorisation of pressure groups and a really useful example for any 25 mark answer question on what makes a pressure group successful or not. With balloting for the BMA strike closing on the 18 November, it will be interesting to watch this story develop…