CAMRA Members Vote for Slow, Difficult, Gradual Change


After several years of discussion and debate members of the Campaign for Real Ale got the chance to vote for/against changes to the organisation’s culture at the weekend and chose… A limited amount of cautious progress.

We watched news of the CAM­RA’s AGM trick­le in via Twit­ter while we were at the tail end of our hol­i­day, feel­ing relaxed and slight­ly detached from it all. On the whole, we reck­oned, the out­come rep­re­sent­ed a move in the right direc­tion, towards a broad­er cam­paign about decent beer, if not quite the clean, deci­sive rev­o­lu­tion­ary change for which some were hop­ing.

We are not alone in this inter­pre­ta­tion, and find our­selves agree­ing fair­ly well with Roger Protz’s analy­sis, which also does a good job of explain­ing some of the foibles of this par­tic­u­lar demo­c­ra­t­ic process:

I vot­ed for change. I would like CAMRA to be the voice of all pub­go­ers and to cam­paign to save pubs. While I will always drink real ale as my beer of choice, I recog­nise that many mod­ern craft keg beers are of excel­lent qual­i­ty and are wor­thy of atten­tion.… But I also accept that, as a result of its found­ing aims, real ale must always be cen­tral to the campaign’s activ­i­ties. No oth­er coun­try pro­duces large amounts of cask-con­di­tioned beer. It’s part of Britain’s his­to­ry and her­itage and it is to CAMRA’s great cred­it that it has been saved, restored and revived.

But oth­er peo­ple read the same infor­ma­tion rather dif­fer­ent­ly: the defeat of one key pro­pos­al was either one in the eye for the craft beer usurpers, or a death knell for CAMRA, depend­ing on prej­u­dices and loy­al­ties. Pete Brown’s thoughts, although we don’t real­ly agree with the main thrust of his argu­ment, should­n’t be dis­missed giv­en his long back­ground in the indus­try, and makes a good case for why this change, and per­haps fur­ther change, is nec­es­sary:

Year after year, research for the Cask Report showed us that there were no deep-seat­ed objec­tion to cask, not in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers. any way. The main rea­son peo­ple hadn’t tried it was that they hadn’t been giv­en a rea­son to. Cask needs to be made rel­e­vant to these peo­ple in the con­text of what they’re already drink­ing: if you like that, you might like this. Craft keg drinkers are a soft tar­get for cask to con­vert – they’re half way there already.… Most drinkers just want good beer, irre­spec­tive of who made it or what it comes in. Most cask ale brew­ers now brew in oth­er for­mats as well – cask now only accounts for 74% of SIBA mem­bers’ out­put, which puts CAMRA in the strange posi­tion of endors­ing some but not all of the beer of the brew­eries it claims to sup­port.

We think Ed is right to down­play the sig­nif­i­cance of the con­tro­ver­sial­ly defeat­ed pro­pos­al that CAMRA should “act as the voice and rep­re­sent the inter­ests of all pub goers and beer, cider and per­ry drinkers”. There’s a lot bun­dled up in that and we can imag­ine it lost a few votes from those who are irri­tat­ed at CAM­RA’s involve­ment with cider and per­ry, or who think that beer is more impor­tant than pubs, or wor­ried that this would specif­i­cal­ly mean CAMRA effec­tive­ly sup­port­ing big brand lager – the main adver­sary for these past 40 years.

If we were dis­mayed by any­thing in par­tic­u­lar it was the elec­tion of anti-Revi­tal­i­sa­tion can­di­date Lynn Attack to the Nation­al Exec­u­tive, but even that, after a momen­t’s reflec­tion, we con­clud­ed was just the hive mind decid­ing in its inscrutable way that it want­ed checks and bal­ances in place. The mem­ber­ship wants change, but it also wants it to be slow, and per­haps even dif­fi­cult. That might seem frus­trat­ing but it’s how sus­tain­able changes are made, and con­sen­sus reached.

A big, bold pub­lic state­ment in favour of change might have helped with PR, but change is hap­pen­ing any­way, on the ground. To some extent, Revi­tal­i­sa­tion was about for­mal­ly approv­ing what many indi­vid­ual mem­bers and branch­es were already doing. That is, appre­ci­at­ing, cel­e­brat­ing and sup­port­ing the kind of beer they want to see more of in the mar­ket, regard­less of dog­ma. Ten years ago the main beef peo­ple seemed to have with CAMRA was that inter­est­ing brew­eries pro­duc­ing pri­mar­i­ly keg beers were effec­tive­ly barred from its fes­ti­vals; that change has been forced through at var­i­ous points in the front-line by vol­un­teer organ­is­ers who thought it was daft, and through the dele­tion of a sin­gle line in a key doc­u­ment has now been offi­cial pol­i­cy.

Any­way, as we have noth­ing much ter­ri­bly sub­stan­tial to add beyond that, we’ll fin­ish with a round-up of links to what oth­ers have said:

Jim at Beers Man­ches­ter – “Yes. I ‘get’ that the major­i­ty of the Revi­tal­i­sa­tion agen­da got through.… Yes. I ‘get’ that the sin­is­ter ‘Motion 8’ sank almost with­out trace.… But that’s not enough.… This vote was mere­ly the straw that broke this par­tic­u­lar Camel’s back.”

James Bee­son, Morn­ing Adver­tis­er – “CAMRA mem­bers nar­row­ly rejected​ the call to widen the organ­i­sa­tions scope to pro­mote oth­er types of beer, cider and per­ry, and in doing so, sent a clear mes­sage to the indus­try. That mes­sage? ‘We’re not inter­est­ed in adapt­ing. We don’t want to change.’”

Kei­th Flett – “The results indi­cate, in my view, progress but not enough progress.… I’ve been a mem­ber of CAMRA since 1975 (my thoughts on this are linked below) and I won’t be leav­ing. I was among the 18,000+ peo­ple who vot­ed on the res­o­lu­tions based on the revi­tal­i­sa­tion project. That is a sev­er­al years long review of how CAMRA is relat­ing to the mod­ern world of pubs, beer and brew­ing. I was also one of the 16,000+ peo­ple who vot­ed for 4 places on the CAMRA Exec­u­tive. CAMRA has over 190,000 mem­bers. Food for seri­ous thought there.”

Pub Cur­mud­geon – “Tak­ing the results as a whole, nine out of ten Revi­tal­i­sa­tion res­o­lu­tions were passed, as were ordi­nary Con­fer­ence motions to adopt an offi­cial­ly neu­tral stance on the cask breather, and to allow the sell­ing of non-real British beers at beer fes­ti­vals.… So the results have to be seen as a mixed bag rather than a deci­sive vic­to­ry for either ‘side’.”

UPDATE 11:30 24/04/2018 Adri­an Tier­ney Jones, Tele­graphAs a writer on beer and pubs and a CAMRA mem­ber, I am dis­ap­point­ed that the res­o­lu­tion fell, espe­cial­ly as 72.6% of 18,000 vot­ers was deemed insuf­fi­cient to pass it. My first thought was whether I want­ed to remain a mem­ber — I am still not entire­ly sure.” (Behind a pay­wall; reg­is­tra­tion is free and enti­tles you to read one arti­cle per week.)

Dis­clo­sure: we are some­times paid to write for CAMRA pub­li­ca­tions.

23 thoughts on “CAMRA Members Vote for Slow, Difficult, Gradual Change”

  1. Absolute­ly right “prej­u­dices and Loy­al­ties”, how peo­ple have inter­pret­ed the votes to fit their own point of view (or to strength­en it) was the most strik­ing thing. We now have a sit­u­a­tion where long term mem­bers are say­ing they’ll leave because they don’t want change, and oth­ers say­ing they’re leav­ing because CAMRA is fail­ing to change. Both are exhibit­ing nar­row mind­ed prej­u­dice.

  2. For var­i­ous rea­sons, I did not attend AGM and like you was receiv­ing news as it hap­pened, by text mes­sages from peo­ple in the hall. I think your sum­ma­ry is well put. Chris­tine and I vis­it­ed the Isle of Man the week before. If you want qual­i­ty beer there, you look for cask beer. Out­side of many of the urban scenes “Craft keg drinkers” are as rare as hen’s teeth because so is “Craft keg”. I liken CAMRA a lit­tle to an oil tanker, it can change direc­tion, but slow­ly.

    1. I’m not sure the IOM can be tak­en as evi­dence of much, or at least not much that’s hap­pened since the 1950s. IME most small mar­ket towns will have pubs with the odd font of Punk or Thorn­bridge or some­thing. The real issue for pubs in those towns is that many of their poten­tial cus­tomers are get­ting their beers deliv­ered to home.

      And of course the age old prob­lem of the tie pre­vent­ing pubs giv­ing peo­ple the beer that they want…

      1. Well my town has plen­ty of pubs, and even three rel­a­tive­ly new bars – but not one craft keg pump so far as I know (I’ve not vis­it­ed a cou­ple of the pubs for a while). I think John is absolute­ly cor­rect.

        1. You might be sur­prised, things have changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly even in the last year. I get around a fair bit, so I’m bas­ing my expe­ri­ence on rather more than just “my town”. Of maybe ten towns around the coun­try in the 15–25k pop­u­la­tion range that I know well enough to give mean­ing­ful pub sug­ges­tions, I think that in every one I could point you to some­where that at least had Punk/Thornbridge/Tiny Rebel/Beavertown keg on, and like­ly some­thing rather more exot­ic, on draught and cer­tain­ly in small­pack. Plus you could get any­thing from North­ern Monk to To Ol in at least one super­mar­ket. These are not hip­ster hang­outs, these are typ­i­cal Mid­dle Eng­land places with aver­age demo­graph­ics in terms of age, wealth etc.

          There are excep­tions – from what B&B have said you’d be up against it in Devon, but Devon is not an aver­age coun­ty by a long way. It’s dif­fi­cult in rur­al Kent just because Sheps has tied up so much of the pub estate, and the local pubs tend to fol­low the strict Herne rule­book rather than the more flex­i­ble approach you see else­where. But _in my experience_ areas like that are no longer the norm.

          1. To be fair to Devon, even there you *can* find this type of beer some­where in most towns – just not much of it, and not often much beyond the usu­al sus­pects. And then there’s Spoons…

          2. There’s a decent selec­tion in Wait­rose, Tesco Express and not bad in one of the branch­es of Sim­ply Fresh. Some of the pubs and two of the bars have a few bot­tles in. But the bars/pubs I use are more like­ly to have craft keg on that any­where else, and they don’t. And we don’t have a Spoons. That does­n’t mean there’s no craft beer, though, craft cask is pret­ty pop­u­lar, at least in 2 of the pubs and often sev­er­al oth­ers. But then we have a city 10 mins down the road, and 2 oth­er towns near­by, so it’s not hard to slake that par­tic­u­lar thirst if you want to – just not here. In the last year, I’ve seen (and in some cas­es drunk ) keg craft in every city I’ve been to in the last year; the only town that goes for is Set­tle. Although I guess Sal­is­bury is arguably more a town than a city in size. Does­n’t real­ly prove any­thing, of course, but it’s where my per­cep­tion comes from.

          3. It sounds like you’re apply­ing a test of find­ing keg in any ran­dom pub cho­sen as a vis­i­tor. That’s a much stern­er test than just one pub in a town hav­ing it, I was talk­ing about towns I know well, not those I pass through. And you might be sur­prised how much things have changed in your local town just in the last year, in the free­hous­es at least. Just a quick skim of Untap­pd might show some­thing up local­ly.

            [Erra­tum – above I meant to refer to Kent micros fol­low­ing Herne Rules, not all Kent pubs]

          4. Untapp­pd is unqual­i­fied rub­bish for my town. It lists an Indi­an restau­rant that has been demol­ished and had a block of flats built on it, anoth­er long-gone Indi­an restau­rant (in fact the one that replaced it has been gone for over a year), and it does list Punk IPA in one bar that does­n’t sell it on keg, although does have bot­tles of it – and this bar is the one I would expect above all oth­ers to have at least one. It even lists the Coun­cil tip/recycling cen­tre, which unsur­pris­ing­ly has absolute­ly no beers or indeed any oth­er kind of drink at all, and is con­clu­sive evi­dence of the app being, well, rub­bish. It’s nowhere near as up-to-date as I am, which is rather wor­ry­ing. But then that very absence of being up-to-date rather rein­forces John’s point about the num­ber of craft keg drinkers out­side urban cen­tres, I feel, at least as far as this town goes. And yet we have the coun­ty’s Pub of the Year for 2018, which sells plen­ty of cask craft beers.

  3. I think Kei­th Flett has not­ed a con­cern­ing point, If only approx 18k from a mem­ber­ship of 190k vote, that per­haps sug­gests there’s a very large major­i­ty who aren’t much both­ered either way but just like to be part of the club. If it was­n’t for rolling re-sub­scrip­tions I won­der how many would renew year on year?

    1. In a com­ment await­ing mod­er­a­tion I ask whether those mem­ber­ship fig­ures are inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fied.

      But when you con­sid­er that local elec­tions get turnouts in the 30%s it’s not so bad real­ly. Most peo­ple car­ry the card, get a dis­count and pre­sum­ably most use their Spoons vouch­ers.

      I’ve got a YBS AGM proxy vote type thing in an enve­lope at home. I’ll prob­a­bly read it a moth after the dead­line date! It’s the nature of these things I guess.

  4. I am about as meek and mild as they come in terms of these things. It takes a lot to get me to change my habits. But when I saw that 73% round­ed up was­n’t enough to pass the motion I woke up on this issue. Yes it’s in the rule book. Noth­ing was under­hand, and yet when you think of more than 13,000 vot­ers being out­num­bered by around 5,000 it should make any­one pause for thought.

    I became a mem­ber of CAMRA because I believed in what they were doing. Now, as we come up to mine and my wife’s renew­al date, I’m won­der­ing what exact­ly I’m sup­port­ing. I don’t need the Spoons vouch­ers. We can pay our way in to fes­ti­vals as we do for the many sparkling vibrant beer fes­ti­vals around the coun­try. It’s not a finan­cial deci­sion – nev­er was.

    This stub­born old bloke and his wife are think­ing of not renew­ing because we no longer seem to be aligned in our objec­tives. You don’t reck­on much to Pete Brown’s view, appar­ent­ly, which is fair enough, but to me he was bang on in most impor­tant areas.

    Who defines what ‘real ale’ is? CAMRA of course. It almost ought to have a copy­right sym­bol next to it such is its asso­ci­a­tion with the CAMRA brand. Cask ale sales falling in inverse pro­por­tion to mem­ber­ship fig­ures (are they ever inde­pen­dent­ly audit­ed, by the way?)?

    I’d like to see CAMRA edu­cate cask drinkers to pay more for the drink they so obvi­ous­ly cher­ish and pay small to medi­um brew­eries enough for them not to have to con­cen­trate on the expen­sive end of the mar­ket to make ends meet. In the end inno­v­a­tive cask will die if brew­ers aren’t incen­tivised to pro­duce it.

    Any­way, it’s annoyed me enough to sum­mon the small activist spir­it in me, but not in a good way.

    1. AIUI the 75% thing isn’t a con­spir­a­cy by the old lags, it’s because you need a spe­cial res­o­lu­tion to change arti­cles of asso­ci­a­tion, and under sec­tion 283 of the Com­pa­nies Act 2006 a spe­cial res­o­lu­tion needs 75% of members/shareholders to pass.

      That 2.4% will die off soon enough.…

      In the mean­time, you have CAMRA able to pro­vide infor­ma­tion and edu­ca­tion about all kinds of beer with­out “act­ing as the voice” of keg drinkers. To me it looks like the kind of thing that the old guard can feel good about claim­ing how they’ve with­stood the assault from the crafties, but in the real world the crafties have “won”. Keg at CAMRA fes­ti­vals, no longer opposed to cask breathers, CAMRA pub­li­ca­tions being able to talk about keg – what exact­ly are you opposed to?

  5. Good points well made. I’m not sure the ‘ted­dy out of the cot’ stance is the way for­ward, what­ev­er side of the fence you want to be. The sad­dest part for me is that, in the eyes of some (both sides of the argu­ment), the fence remains and will con­tin­ue to do so.

  6. Thanks for this, I was hop­ing we’d get to hear your thoughts. I find myself unable to dis­cern what the facts are in some cas­es. Pete Brown described cask sales as in “freefall,” while Roger Protz points out that its 5% annu­al decline is actu­al­ly more grad­ual than for beer sales in gen­er­al.

    It does seem that if the mat­ter comes to a vote again in a few more years, things will have made the slight shift need­ed to allow pas­sage of that last res­o­lu­tion.

    1. If you’re real­ly inter­est­ed in get­ting to the bot­tom of it going back to suc­ces­sive year’s Cask Reports might help. The gen­er­al point is, I think, that the first step to get­ting peo­ple engaged with and excit­ed about cask ale is to get them and engaged with and excit­ed about *beer*, full stop. Craft beer (bright colours, hip brand­ing, lots of vari­ety, under­dog sto­ries) is a great entry point.

      (Although mine was Fos­ter’s lager > Greene King IPA > Deuchar’s IPA, so who knows…)

      1. I can’t see how a move towards not cham­pi­oning cask beer can pos­si­bly be good for cask. I cer­tain­ly don’t see the log­ic of (craft) keg as a gate­way to cask – if it’s brighter, more fash­ion­able, more var­ied and gen­er­al­ly more excit­ing than cask, why would new beer drinkers just not stick to keg? Up to now CAMRA has argued clear­ly and unam­bigu­ous­ly – per­haps too unam­bigu­ous­ly – that cask beer is fun­da­men­tal­ly dif­fer­ent from keg and gen­er­al­ly supe­ri­or. Move CAMRA away from that posi­tion, and towards a gen­er­al embrace of good beer in what­ev­er form it comes in, and I can’t see why new drinkers should ever take any notice of the “old man beers” on hand pump.

        1. Per­haps they should­n’t. Per­haps Doom Bar does­n’t need cheer­lead­ing but Tadding­ton Morav­ka does. Per­haps the UK beer indus­try has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the last ten years. Per­haps the worst ene­my of qual­i­ty beer is no longer extra­ne­ous CO2. If this is the case, should­n’t CAMRA adapt to the cir­cum­stances and be a bet­ter friend to the mod­ern beer drinker? Per­haps its rel­e­vance is in jeop­ardy if it does­n’t.

        2. Where, exact­ly, is CAMRA say­ing that it is “not cham­pi­oning cask beer”??? There’s even been mem­bers of the NE quot­ed as say­ing SR6 was more about pubs than beer – and I don’t think enough atten­tion is paid to the need to have pubs if you want cask beer.

          And it’s a fact that peo­ple who drink beer are more like­ly to drink cask beer than peo­ple who don’t drink beer. Shout­ing them say­ing that they are stu­pid for choos­ing their cur­rent tip­ple is not going to get them feel­ing good about switch­ing to cask. How­ev­er, by the cask­ies’ log­ic, cask is the high­est form of the brew­er’s art, so peo­ple inter­est­ed in beer will be attract­ed to it because it’s so much bet­ter than the keg stuff they have been drink­ing.

          How­ev­er, if the cask­ies are wrong and the aver­age pint of cask is clos­er to vine­gar then you’re right, peo­ple will stick with keg. You can’t tell peo­ple to drink cask because they “should”, they have to be enticed to cask because it deliv­ers a bet­ter expe­ri­ence for the mon­ey.

          1. qq – I said “a move towards not cham­pi­oning cask beer”; the mood music mat­ters as well as the out­right changes of pol­i­cy. (One of the SRs that passed is about pubs and clubs, inci­den­tal­ly.) And, of course, I’m not say­ing we should tell peo­ple they’re stu­pid for not drink­ing cask beer – den­i­grat­ing oth­er forms of beer has nev­er been CAMRA pol­i­cy, although at times you could be for­giv­en for think­ing it was (to that extent the mood music did need to change).

            I don’t think we should leave cask beer to sink or swim in the mar­ket, though. If it could sur­vive on qual­i­ty alone we would­n’t have need­ed a cam­paign in the first place.

  7. A cam­paign­ing organ­i­sa­tion relies for its cred­i­bil­i­ty on how it is per­ceived both by those whom it wish­es to influ­ence and the pub­lic at large. CAM­RA’s membership,by reject­ing part of a well thought out mod­erni­sa­tion process,are now per­ceived as being back­ward look­ing and this will have a great impact on its effec­tive­ness as a cam­paign­ing organ­i­sa­tion

  8. An inter­est­ing range of com­ments, all expressed with­out the vio­lent ad hominem vit­ri­ol that appar­ent­ly can infect on line con­ver­sa­tions. Some thoughts
    Inde­pen­dent audit­ing of mem­ber­ship record? See the Audit­ed Accounts for a true & fair view.
    Less than 10% of mem­bers vot­ing?
    I sub­mit that since the CAMRA Nation­al Exec­u­tive pre­vent­ed the pre­sen­ta­tion of any alter­na­tive or oppos­ing views to the Revi­tal­i­sa­tion
    Report, in What’s Brew­ing, the vast major­i­ty of the mem­ber­ship did not realise that there was any­thing to vote on. Is absten­tion a vote for the sta­tus quo, or tac­it accep­tance of the pro­pos­als? Who can do any­thing oth­er than guess?
    As one who attend­ed the AGM & Con­fer­ence, my impres­sion was that a bal­ance was struck between chang­ing the absolute found­ing prin­ci­ples of the Cam­paign and con­tin­u­ing with a grad­ual pro­gres­sion (which has been in evi­dence for some time). The fact that CAMRA did not “tear itself apart” over a form of words is some­thing I am very grate­ful for.

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