Revitalisation: Compromise, Politics & Progress

Illustration: "FORWARD!"

Even though everyone is thoroughly weary of the topic there is a lot being written about CAMRA’s Revitalisation project so we’re going to highlight some of it here, and throw in some passing thoughts of our own.

The main event in the last week has been the pub­li­ca­tion of a man­i­festo by Bradley Cum­mings of Tiny Rebel brew­ery who is run­ning for the CAMRA Nation­al Exec­u­tive. Out gut feel­ing is that this feels like a PR move more than any­thing and we’re not sure brew­ers should be on the NE, though of course there are lots of his­toric exam­ples of peo­ple mov­ing back and forth from the indus­try to CAMRA. (Mar­tin Sykes of the Sel­by Brew­ery was an ear­ly NE mem­ber; Christo­pher Hutt became a pub entre­pre­neur; Michael Hard­man worked for Young & Co after leav­ing the NE; Chris Holmes found­ed Cas­tle Rock, and so on.)

Here’s Mr Cumming’s man­i­festo (PDF at Google Dri­ve):

Let’s face it: CAMRA isn’t very cool. How many of its near­ly 200,000 mem­bers would end a sen­tence that starts “I’m a CAMRA mem­ber” with “for my sins”?

A new gen­er­a­tion of beer fans is incred­i­bly pas­sion­ate, knowl­edge­able and ener­getic, but CAMRA has alien­at­ed them instead of see­ing their efforts as con­sis­tent with CAMRA’s aims.

Let’s not for­get – CAMRA was estab­lished to give con­sumers a CHOICE. But CAMRA has lost that for­ward think­ing, pro­gres­sive out­look and instead adopt­ed a posi­tion of pref­er­ence.

I do not believe for a sec­ond that the new gen­er­a­tion of drinkers wish to remove real ale from the British beer land­scape. On the con­trary, I believe they want to get back to the roots of CAMRA and pro­mote informed choice, and pro­tect cask ale as an excit­ing and impor­tant part of our beer scene. I should know – I’m one of them.

Here’s a pas­sion­ate, point­ed rebut­tal by Kirst Walk­er, our 2017 Gold­en Pints blog­ger of the year:

I’m dis­mayed at how lit­tle scruti­ny has been giv­en to some of the ideas beyond the ban­ner head­line of ‘don’t judge beers by method of dis­pense’. Yes, there are some wide rang­ing ideas, not par­tic­u­lar­ly rad­i­cal, which we can all get on board with. But there are also some chill­ing state­ments around the treat­ment of pubs and pub­li­cans which seem to have gone under the radar, and some bom­bas­tic mes­sages which have gone unchal­lenged, such as ‘Brew­ers know beer best. That is unde­ni­able.’.… Is it? I don’t think so.

And here’s a cau­tious almost endorse­ment from Tan­dle­man:

You can pick and choose the ele­ments you like and dis­like and while there isn’t an awful lot that is entire­ly new, except per­haps that one of the bright­est stars of brew­ing, in one of the most enter­pris­ing com­pa­nies, actu­al­ly wants to get involved with CAMRA and sees CAMRA still has poten­tial. He wants to moti­vate mem­bers and get them direct­ly involved in CAMRA’s democ­ra­cy and is will­ing to stand for elec­tion to rumm­le things up a bit, which many (includ­ing me) will see as a pos­i­tive.… On the oth­er hand, per­son­al­ly, I am very wary and can’t real­ly­con­cur with (pos­si­bly inad­ver­tent­ly) repo­si­tion­ing  CAMRA as a kind of off­shoot of indus­try, though some clos­er involve­ment would be sen­si­ble.

In gen­er­al, we’re inclined to agree with the gen­er­al thrust of that argu­ment. The Revi­tal­i­sa­tion pro­pos­als are by neces­si­ty a com­pro­mise between many sub­tly dif­fer­ent posi­tions, most of which shake out into two major camps: con­ser­v­a­tive and pro­gres­sive. You might object to spe­cif­ic ele­ments of lan­guage or like some parts while hat­ing oth­ers but when push comes to shove, as in real world pol­i­tics, you can only vote for the can­di­dates on the bal­lot paper on the day and hope to nudge things rough­ly in your pre­ferred direc­tion.

For our part we’ll be vot­ing in favour of the Revi­tal­i­sa­tion pro­pos­als or, rather, “to change the Arti­cles of Asso­ci­a­tion to allow the Cam­paign to enact the rec­om­men­da­tions made by the Nation­al Exec­u­tive”.

Whether we vote for Mr Cum­mings for the Nation­al Exec­u­tive will depend on what the oth­er man­i­festos look like; suf­fice to say, we’ll be choos­ing can­di­dates who are broad­ly pro­gres­sive, even if (as is almost cer­tain) we don’t agree with their stance on every sin­gle issue.

There’s bound to be some mud­dle, argy-bar­gy and fur­ther dis­gruntle­ment, but Head­ing That-A-Way! and work­ing out the prob­lems when they arise seems to us bet­ter than doing noth­ing until CAMRA sim­ply ossi­fies.

24 thoughts on “Revitalisation: Compromise, Politics & Progress”

  1. From eight years’ expe­ri­ence in beer con­sumer organ­i­sa­tions, I have nev­er seen some­one who wants to storm in from out­side and shake things up get any trac­tion from the vot­ing mem­ber­ship.

  2. My main prob­lem with the revi­tal­i­sa­tion project as it hap­pened, is that it seems to have end­ed, whether by inten­tion or not I do not know, seek­ing meth­ods to pro­long the exis­tence of CAMRA.
    For an organ­i­sa­tion whose first 4 objec­tives are stat­ed as:
    1) to pro­tect the inter­ests of all those who wish to drink real ale;
    2)to cam­paign for an improve­ment in the qual­i­ty and vari­ety of British real ale;
    3)to draw to the atten­tion of Mem­bers and the gen­er­al pub­lic those places where real ale can be found;
    4)to pro­mote and fos­ter activ­i­ties con­cerned with the con­sump­tion of real ale

    It would seem to me that any attempt to change the Cam­paign should be based on ask­ing how to make sure that CAMRA can ensure that these aims remain rel­e­vant and achiev­able in the present and future.

    Whichev­er way the vote on this goes, it seems almost inevitable that CAMRA is going to schism to some extent over the issue.

    1. Scott – that’s a good point. Hav­ing said that, we do think CAMRA is worth pre­serv­ing. Cre­at­ing a new body to rep­re­sent con­sumers from scratch would seem prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble at this point, or at least a waste of ener­gy.

    2. My main prob­lem with the revi­tal­i­sa­tion project as it hap­pened, is that it seems to have end­ed, whether by inten­tion or not I do not know, seek­ing meth­ods to pro­long the exis­tence of CAMRA.”

      Of course it does. What else would it do?

    3. Is a schism real­ly like­ly? Crafties have shown almost no incli­na­tion or abil­i­ty for grass roots organ­i­sa­tion so it would have to be die hard CAMRA tra­di­tion­al­ists split­ting off. Indi­vid­u­als would be iso­lat­ed and even if whole branch­es went they wouldn’t take the inac­tive but pay­ing mem­ber­ship with them so would have lit­tle fund­ing and no pro­fes­sion­al sup­port.

      1. Full on ‘crafties’ don’t tend to be CAMRA mem­bers; what we’re talk­ing about here, I think, is peo­ple who are already active in CAMRA but feel frus­trat­ed a lot of the time. They’ve already got the expe­ri­ence of run­ning branch­es, putting out mag­a­zines, organ­is­ing fes­ti­vals… I don’t think it’s like­ly, but it *could* hap­pen.

    4. I’m real­ly strug­gling with the con­cept that CAMRA’s Revi­tal­i­sa­tion project could pos­si­bly be about any­thing oth­er than seek­ing meth­ods to pro­long the exis­tence of CAMRA. That’s lit­er­al­ly the pur­pose!

      1. Assume Scott’s point (he may cor­rect me) is that if Revi­tal­i­sa­tion is about self-preser­va­tion for the sake of it (CAMRA must live on, even if it means becom­ing a cam­paign against dog mess or in favour of improved pedes­tri­an cross­ings or some­thing) then that might be a prob­lem. As long as it’s about pre­serv­ing (or, er, revi­tal­is­ing) CAMRA so it can bet­ter rep­re­sent beer con­sumers, which we think it is, then that’s fine.

        1. I’m strug­gling with order­ing all my thoughts about the whole thing, but I think that at least part of the dif­fer­ence in opin­ions between “tra­di­tion­al­ists” and “the craft beer crowd” is that there are such dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences depend­ing on where you live. In my town, there’s not real­ly any craft beer at all, and such keg beer as exists is utter rub­bish; we have too many GK pubs, but that’s the biggest beer prob­lem here, beyond some­times mixed beer qual­i­ty. In the near­by vil­lages, it’s all about sav­ing their locals. For peo­ple in these places, what CAMRA has always stood for is absolute­ly cen­tral to what they want. It’s not that they’re Lud­dites, but that they want to pre­serve what they have and make it a bit bet­ter. Craft beer is (cur­rent­ly, at least) irrel­e­vant here.
          In the city next door, it’s dif­fer­ent. Big stu­dent pop­u­la­tion, lots of places to drink, and sev­er­al craft brew­eries. Here it makes no sense for CAMRA to ignore good beer sim­ply because of the method of dis­pense. What CAMRA real­ly needs to do is to get peo­ple to under­stand these dif­fer­ences and be an organ­i­sa­tion that fights for all its mem­bers – fight for beer qual­i­ty, fight for pubs, but above all, fight for drinkers. I real­ly don’t think Bradley Cum­mings is the answer, although he might be part of the answer.

    1. Thanks for the link – I think this, plus Kirst’s arti­cle linked above, are very valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to the debate, because they grap­ple with the fact that CAMRA is not sim­ply a move­ment, or a cam­paign in the nar­row sense, but a liv­ing, breath­ing mem­bers organ­i­sa­tion with its own struc­tures, tools, tech­nolo­gies, met­rics, plat­forms, codes etc. It’s an insti­tu­tion. Before you go about chang­ing or revi­tal­is­ing that, you have to have a real­ly good under­stand­ing of what binds it togeth­er. Vague imper­a­tives of “progress” or “get­ting with the times” just seem to fly past this.

      This is why accept­ing the idea of a “conservative/progressive” split in the beer world, while per­haps accu­rate in many ways, is so unsat­is­fy­ing and frus­trat­ing. Could you not con­serve the core pur­pose of CAMRA while adapt­ing the means of deliv­er­ing that pur­pose in rad­i­cal, pro­gres­sive ways? Or are we doomed to this reduc­tive cul­ture war of “progress/craft beer/online/young/inclusive/pubs are not the only fruit/vote with our feet” and “traditional/real ale/save the pubs/branch structure/trade union style/old/sexist pump clips”?

      1. There is, what­ev­er the out­come, a risk of dis­turb­ing the exist­ing equi­lib­ri­um and dam­ag­ing the organ­i­sa­tion as a whole, but only time will tell. I must admit the thought had already occurred to me of this poten­tial­ly mak­ing “cul­ture wars” more explic­it in the beer world.

  3. @OliverH – as nat­ur­al fence­sit­ters we’re also uncom­fort­able with polem­i­cal posi­tions as can alien­ate the (no doubt vast major­i­ty) of peo­ple some­where in the mid­dle. It’ll be inter­est­ing to see who else steps for­ward.

    1. Thanks – yes, and what par­tic­u­lar­ly both­ers me is the “bunch­ing” of posi­tions – if you believe X then you also believe Y – because it shuts down pro­gres­sive pos­si­bil­i­ties in favour of a bina­ry backwards/forwards choice.

      There are many dif­fer­ent ways that CAMRA could progress and become stronger, more resilient and ful­fil its mis­sion bet­ter (and in fair­ness the Revi­tal­i­sa­tion sur­vey did present var­i­ous pic­tures of this to mem­bers). It just means ask­ing dif­fer­ent ques­tions.

      Is includ­ing craft with­in CAMRA’s mis­sion *real­ly* going to increase the active mem­ber­ship? (I doubt it). If I love craft (which I do, Tiny Rebel includ­ed), is it *real­ly* so impor­tant to me that CAMRA includes craft with­in its mis­sion? Is CAMRA *real­ly* a con­sumers’ organ­i­sa­tion, or is it more of a cul­tur­al her­itage organ­i­sa­tion? If so, where is it need­ed most, where can it do the most good?

      If the active mem­ber­ship is in ter­mi­nal decline, what are the oth­er ways that CAMRA can fur­ther its mis­sion of pro­tect­ing and pro­mot­ing real ale, pubs and cider? What oth­er uses can it make of its mas­sive mem­ber­ship (which seems to grow by anoth­er 1000 each time some­one on Twit­ter dis­miss­es CAMRA as irrel­e­vant)? Are there ways to acti­vate mem­bers oth­er than beer fes­ti­vals, branch meet­ings, scor­ing pubs etc? Etc Etc.

      TL;DR: Fence­sit­ters of the beer world, unite! You have noth­ing to lose but your splin­ters.

  4. I hope I can per­suade you guys that it’s not just PR – though I guess that side of things is unavoid­able with my place with­in the indus­try.

    The talk about the split in the beer world is inter­est­ing. I’m also not a fan of polem­i­cal posi­tions – pro­duc­er and con­sumer are not mutu­al­ly exclu­sive.

    1. I would be very inter­est­ed if you would address Kirst’s points, because I do think they point to sig­nif­i­cant areas of your man­i­festo that wor­ry me.

        1. Thanks. That cer­tain­ly helps with sev­er­al points, but I do think you’re absolute­ly wrong with the line that brew­ers know beer best. It comes over as arro­gant, over­bear­ing, obnox­ious and patro­n­is­ing, and I cer­tain­ly don’t believe it’s true. After all, Michael Jack­son wasn’t a brew­er, and prob­a­bly knew beer bet­ter than any­body. I think it’s high­ly doubt­ful you would be brew­ing with­out his influ­ence, for a start. Fur­ther, if brew­ers know beer best, does that mean that AB-Inbev know it best of all? Brew­ers know pro­duc­tion best. They prob­a­bly under­stand their mar­ket best, although that’s open to ques­tion. What they don’t know best is how their prod­uct com­pares to the com­pe­ti­tion; drinkers know that best, by def­i­n­i­tion. So ulti­mate­ly, it’s drinkers that know beer best – the proof of the pud­ding being in the eat­ing, not in the cook­ing or sell­ing of it. So no, brew­ers do NOT know beer best, and it’s not exact­ly a smart move to tell a con­sumer organ­i­sa­tion that their views are less impor­tant than the man­u­fac­tur­er, is it?
          Try a line like “nobody knows beer bet­ter than brew­ers” and you might get away with it, though. Just don’t try to push the hege­mo­ny of brew­ers over drinkers.

  5. It’s real­ly not “method of dis­pense”! Hand pumps vs the metered elec­tric pumps they used to have in some Man­ches­ter pubs – that’s “method of dis­pense”, and that is irrel­e­vant. The def­i­n­i­tion of ‘real ale’ is all about the active yeast; you can put RA in a key keg and serve it from a keg font – you can even chill it if you want to – and it’ll still be RA. (I’ve seen a “CAMRA says this is Real Ale” stick­er on a keg tap. Why not?)

    Obvi­ous­ly Bradley knows all this stuff inside out, so I was dis­ap­point­ed to see his sug­ges­tion of “focus­ing on qual­i­ty rather than dis­pense”. Dis­pense is triv­ial; live yeast isn’t.

    1. Live yeast cer­tain­ly isn’t triv­ial; I guess the ulti­mate ques­tion is “is it the be-all and end-all of good beer?”
      My view is that if you can’t absolute­ly say that, 30 years ago or more it was cer­tain­ly just about the best indi­ca­tor. Sure, there were some decent bot­tled beers with­out live yeast, but pret­ty much only Guin­ness had any sort of claim to being a drink­able beer on draught with­out live yeast. Now, though? I’m not so sure.
      Are there oth­er process­es that are impor­tant for beer qual­i­ty? Pas­teuri­sa­tion, for instance? Strikes me as poten­tial­ly hav­ing more impact on the flavour of beer than the source of car­bon­a­tion. Cold fil­ter­ing? Dry hop­ping? Mat­u­ra­tion?
      My view remains that in gen­er­al, nat­u­ral­ly-con­di­tioned beers are bet­ter than arti­fi­cial­ly con­di­tioned ones, but that there are plen­ty of oth­er fac­tors in beer qual­i­ty that I’m not pre­pared to be total­ly hung up on that one. I’m a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, and lots of pho­tog­ra­phers get hung up on tech­ni­cal details to the detri­ment of aes­thet­ics – burned-out high­lights, for exam­ple. My view is that if a pho­to looks good, it IS good regard­less of tech­ni­cal­i­ties, and I take the same view with beer.

    2. If you think you can tell the dif­fer­ence between bot­tle or cask con­di­tioned beer and brew­ery con­di­tioned beer with 100% accu­ra­cy, you’re com­plete­ly delu­sion­al.

      1. If you think you can tell the dif­fer­ence between mar­garine and but­ter with 100% accu­ra­cy, you’re com­plete­ly delu­sion­al. But that doesn’t mean but­ter isn’t a more whole­some and nat­ur­al prod­uct.

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