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, Telegraph – “As 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.