CAMRA Members Vote for Slow, Difficult, Gradual Change

Hands

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.

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.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 03 February 2018: Cole, CAMRA, Carlsberg

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from anger management to keg konfrontations.

The debate about sexism in beer has been a constant background noise as long as we’ve been blogging but seems to be reaching a head right now, in various positive ways. For example, at Good Beer HuntingMelissa Cole has written a long piece expressing what we suspect a lot of people have been thinking: passionate anger and ‘calling out’ over sexist beer branding clangers is understandable, and often feels like one of the few effective ways to drive change, but is it the best way in every case, and is it sustainable?

All I’m actually saying here is that perhaps we need to stop and think about what led these men, and sometimes women, to not being able to see how this artwork is unacceptable. Are these instances a chance to move the conversation on from merely calling out, and calling names, to a more genuine discourse about why sexist branding is damaging on so many levels? I hope so…. If we can encourage more empathy outside of privilege bubbles, encourage thought beyond what makes you laugh, seeking advice from groups that might be affected by your actions, if we can get acknowledgement that just our own life experiences are not the be all and end all, then that would be a huge start.

By way of a chaser, check out this piece by Alice at Alice Likes Beer reporting on a specific, awkward instance of weird behaviour occurring where else but in the crowd at a discussion about sexism at a beer festival.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

The Campaign for Real Ale’s Revitalisation project is also reaching a head and as the proposals are laid out and the big vote approaches (members can vote at the AGM, or by proxy) the pros and cons are being explored. Here’s a list of opinion pieces which might help you make up your mind, or alternatively give you ammo to back up what you already believe.

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