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.

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.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 03 Feb­ru­ary 2018: Cole, CAMRA, Carls­berg”