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Role of Interest Groups

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Why have social movements become more important in the UK?

Social movements have been in existence for a long time in the UK.

In 19th century Britain, for example, the Suffragettes organised for women’s rights and the Chartist Movement advocated a more democratic voting system.

However, a set of New Social Movements have developed across the Western World since the 1960s as a result of social and political changes:-

        The 1950s had been a period of social conformity during which there were traditional ideas of family, religion, the role of women and sexuality. A new generation began to question this conformity and adopted ideas of individual freedom from social control.

        Government Departments and Local Authorities were used to take decisions with very little or no consultation with the public, for example, by redeveloping areas of cities without considering the opinions of local communities. A better educated public began to question these sorts of decisions and campaign against them.

        The political scientist Ronald Inglehart had written about the development of a post-materialist generation.  His view is that the generations that experienced the economic depression of the 1930s and then the Second World War expected politics to provide economic security and strong  military defence.  In contrast the generation growing up during the economic prosperity and comparative lack of war in the 1950s and 1960s became more concerned with issues such as individual freedom, a better lifestyle and equality.  This was particularly so of the middle class and pushed some people in this group in a more radical political direction.

From the 1960s

A wide range of new social movements have developed.

In the late 1960s a squatters’ movement drew attention to the housing problem and occupied empty houses and an environmental movement drew attention to the impact of economic development on the environment and sought a new relationship between society and the environment.

By the 1970s a feminist movement criticised the male dominance of society and sought a reorganisation of personal and social relationships, gay and lesbian movements campaigned against discrimination, the need for racial equality became an issue and community groups began to organise for themselves rather than depending on government to take decisions.

In the 1980s groups concerned with world poverty, disability discrimination and individual and human rights became important. These social movements are still important, although feminism has lost some of its impetus and the gay community have achieved many of their objectives.

Society has become even more individualistic with many of those interested in politics engaged in individual issues rather than in support for traditional political parties.

New issues have emerged, for example, the problems that people in the private rented sector find themselves in, which Generation Rent is giving a voice to.

The Green Party has broadened its appeal beyond environmentalism to other radical issues and works through the networks of social movements. The development of the social media has made it much easier for people in social movements to keep in contact and organise, as well as recruit supporters, nationally and even internationally.