One of the strengths of the Campaign for Real Ale has been its political… neutrality isn’t quite the right word… let’s say, vagueness.
It has been denounced as dangerously left-wing — anarchistic, in fact — by big brewers, and yet conservatives (small C), Conservatives (big C) and even fascists have been active members, alongside socialists like Roger Protz. As long as the focus is on beer and pubs, then everyone seems to rub along more-or-less happily, and membership hasn’t been a political statement.
Yesterday, however, the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a group which argues for small government and lower taxes, started a campaign against the Beer Duty Escalator, and promptly began spamming every brewery, beer writer and boozer in the land. CAMRA responded like this:
— CAMRA (@CAMRA_Official) February 26, 2013
The problem is that the TPA, unlike CAMRA, do have an obvious position on the political spectrum — they are funded by secret donors, but widely thought to be allied, in a rather shadowy manner, to the right wing of the Conservative Party — and some left-leaning CAMRA members reacted with displeasure at this new development.
CAMRA’s response was a tactical error because it risks alienating a big chunk of CAMRA’s membership from what has become a key campaign issue; it allows a campaign about something very specific to be co-opted as part of a wider campaign for lower taxes. It will cause many to question their opposition to the Beer Duty Escalator as they connect that specific tax with a reduction in public services (e.g. libraries) to which they might also be opposed.
The TPA have a good track-record in winning battles they enter, partly because of well-funded and cleverly-conceived PR stunts, so perhaps its worth losing or annoying a few members to gain the assistance of such a powerful ally.
Our feeling, however, is that CAMRA has more to gain in the long run from remaining aloof from politics with a capital P; and that a simple ‘thanks for your support’ would have been more appropriate in this case.
Practicing what we preach, we’re keeping our politics vague: this is a comment on CAMRA’s PR tactics, not on the TPA, or even the Escalator.