Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A motion too far?

I spent much of last weekend avoiding CAMRA, not intentionally, it just happened that way. Saturday was the date for the West Kent Branch AGM, and also for CAMRA’s National AGM which, this year, took place in Coventry.

I didn’t attend either, although I had planned to go along to my own branch’s bash. However, given the fine weather, combined with a family get-together, I’m afraid CAMRA West Kent went by the wayside, and I am still in the dark as to what occurred, or whether the branch was even able to form a new committee.

There was no shortage of news about the events taking place at  Coventry though, as the stories about a “new direction” for the Campaign were all over the national press, with several claiming the end of CAMRA as we know it.

Of course there is nothing journalists like better than a sensationalist story, and the fact there wasn’t anything earth-shattering coming out of Coventry, didn’t stop the headlines homing in on the one Special Resolution which just failed to make the 75% threshold necessary for approval.

The Telegraph led with the story that real ale drinkers had rejected "CAMRA’s bid to support lager", whilst the Independent took a softer approach, with the headline, "CAMRA agrees to campaign for more that just Real Ale". The drink trade’s own mouthpiece, the Morning Advertiser  was probably the most hard-hitting with the rather terse statement, "CAMRA will not represent all beer and cider drinkers".

Almost 18,000 members voted either online or at the AGM, to approve changes to CAMRA’s Articles of Association which will re-define the 47-year-old organisation’s purpose and campaigning activities. These changes were in the form of six Special Resolutions put forward by the group’s National Executive, and were as follows:
  1. To secure the long term future of real ale, real cider and real perry by increasing their quality, availability and popularity
  2. To promote and protect pubs and clubs as social centres as part of the UK’s cultural heritage
  3. To increase recognition of the benefits of responsible, moderate social drinking
  4. To play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type
  5. To ensure, where possible, that producers and retailers of beer, cider and perry act in the best interests of the customer.
As mentioned above SR 6. To act as the voice and represent the interests of all pub goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers, narrowly failed to attract the necessary mandate of 75%  of the votes cast; although it came close at 72.6%.

Other resolutions passed, included the one on offering discounts, which was the subject of the last post, plus a motion changing CAMRA’s policy on “cask breathers” thereby allowing individual branches more choice when it comes to Good Beer Guide selection time. This change of heart is long overdue and is good news to me, as I never understood CAMRA’s opposition to these devices.

I voted in favour of the Special Resolutions, with the exception of the one which enshrined cider and perry in the Campaign’s Articles of Association, but must admit was prepared to see them all fail, especially because of the 75% “super-majority” required - David Cameron, please take note, this is how you reach a meaningful decision! This was due to my perception of CAMRA as an inward-looking organisation, firmly entrenched in the past. 

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see all but the most controversial of them approved by the voters. It was a good, modernising move on CAMRA’s part, to allow members to vote either on line, or by post, as in the past only those attending the AGM were eligible to make policy decisions. 

But whilst 18,000 may look like a good turnout, and is infinitely better that the one thousand or so members who attend AGM’s,  it is still less than 10% of the total membership, so apathy still exists amongst the majority of the Campaign’s members. So given this level of indifference amongst CAMRA members, will these changes inspire more of them to get involved, or will it still be the same old, same old?

We won’t know for some time, and CAMRA’s National Executive, now under the leadership of new chairman, Jackie Parker,  will have their work cut out for many months to come, as they seek to implement the changes vote through at last weekend’s AGM.

For some well-balanced, alternatives takes on the events in Coventry, and what they may mean for CAMRA, it is well worth taking a look at what fellow bloggers Boak & Bailey (no relation), Pub Curmudgeon and Tandleman have come up with. Beer writer Pete Brown, takes a stronger and more pessimistic view, which is countered well by former GBG and "What's Brewing " editor, Roger Protz’s much more upbeat and optimistic assessment.


Martin Taylor said...

Good piece, and nice photo of the local Young CAMRA Members on a train journey to some craft emporium or other.

Russtovich said...

I'm not up on all of the CAMRA stuff (obviously!) but I'll still post some bits anyway. :)

"However, given the fine weather, "

That's true of most things these days and with good reason. I still play online at times with people I've known since 2002. Come the summer the play time drops off considerably as there are more options for your spare time with the better weather. :)

"it is still less than 10% of the total membership, so apathy still exists amongst the majority of the Campaign’s members."

True, but look at the turnout for major elections and whatnot. Those are usually under 60% almost everywhere. Heck, if we went supermajority for those we'd never have a prime minister again! (LOL)

"fellow bloggers Boak & Bailey (no relation)"

You know, that never crossed my mind. ;)

"and "What's Brewing " editor, Roger Protz’s "

Totally off topic but I just received his two books "300 Beer to try Before You Die" plus the "300 More Beers..." one. If I ever win the lottery I may make those the basis of my bucket list. :)


Curmudgeon said...

Sadly, that photo does sum up a certain stereotype of CAMRA members :-(

Although you, me and Martin would fit in perfectly ;-)

Paul Bailey said...

The choice of photo was deliberate Mudge, not so much to reinforce the stereotype of typical CAMRA members, but more to get the point across that many of us are getting on a bit.

There is no-one in that group younger than their mid-fifties which, more than anything, demonstrates why the Campaign needs to attract younger members.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

"Sixty is the new forty"

Paul Bailey said...

Martin and Ethelred, the “Young” CAMRA members in the photo, certainly scrub up well, and yes, sixty is definitely the new forty!

Russ, I've got that 300 Bucket-List Beer book at home somewhere, along with another one which lists 1,000 beers! They were Christmas presents, but the trouble with such books is they quickly go out of date, as newer and “more exciting” beers come on the scene. Still good fun though, to thumb through on occasion.

ps. No typo’s this time?

Martin Taylor said...

Sadly, Paul, as mentioned by Mudgie and you before I doubt younger members will be taking up the slack in many branches and doing admin legwork.

Russtovich said...


" Still good fun though, to thumb through on occasion."

Agreed. :)

"ps. No typo’s this time?"

Not that I could see! (thumbs up)


Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Why not turn CAMRA into, or affiliate it with, a movement to resurrect other things, which were good about the consensus politics era of the post-war period?

Over eighty percent want a return to a publicly-accountable, not-for-profit, single energy supplier, for instance. Then there are proper occupational pensions, along with sober, responsible, mutual lenders, who did not fuel a housing boom and affordability crisis, then...

I need a beer.

Curmudgeon said...

Yawn, more tedious off-topic political axe-grinding...

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Enough about your blog, Mudge.

What about Paul's?

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

PS, the Daily Mash has a few crackers:

Does that remind you of anyone?

RedNev said...

I'm not surprised Pete Brown took a pessimistic view, as he is really quite hostile to CAMRA. I know he actually joined the Campaign a few years ago because he wrote an article about it (for which he presumably received a fee worth rather more than the subs). I've read his accounts of selfish behaviour of CAMRA members and, although I've been a CAMRA member since before he could legally enter pubs, I've never seen anything remotely comparable to what he claimed to have observed.

Paul Bailey said...

Whilst there are points of yours I may well agree with Ethelred, may I ask that comments remain “on topic”. There are countless other issues which I’m sure we could all debate until the cows come home, but this post is about CAMRA’s epiphany moment, and what it might mean for the Campaign, so can we please keep it this way.

I agree Nev, that the writer you refer to has a rather hostile, and in my opinion, totally unjustified view of CAMRA, and that in the past he has made considerable capital out of knocking CAMRA. This may have gained him a few “Brownie Points” (if you’ll pardon the pun), amongst fellow CAMRA-bashers, but there have been occasions where he has made himself look rather foolish.

You mention him joining CAMRA, and the article he wrote at the time. Is he still a member, and if so does the Campaign really need such false friends?

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

"Many a sincere word is spoken in jest" Paul.

I think that there is an understandable longing amongst the young, for a return to a national frame-of-mind, which accepts their aspirations as being just as realistic as it did for our generation.

If CAMRA were to align itself with that spirit (if with nothing else), rather than allowing itself to be seen as yet another province of the caricature Baby Boomers' outlook, then it's hard to see how that would do it any harm.

In the 1970s as I recall, CAMRA got a lot of sympathetic coverage by the BBC and the like, (perhaps because, like jam-making and bee-keeping, it was seen by the Establishment as a safe interest for the little folk to have, after all that 1968 stuff.) Who knows, maybe similar interest groups would be only too pleased today, to see some of our young join CAMRA rather than JC's half-a-million?



RedNev said...

In answer to your two questions to me:
1. I don't know.
2. Definitely not!


Curmudgeon said...

That was a rather odd post by Pete Brown. He did make a valid point about some of the elephants in the room that the advocates of cask beer seem reluctant to confront, but his basic argument seemed to be that the best way to save cask is to embrace other beers, which doesn't really make sense.

He would benefit from spending more time in Barnsley and less in that London.

Paul Bailey said...

The quality of cask, or rather the lack of it, is an obvious issue Mudge, and Pete was correct to highlight it. However, just because SR 6 failed to get the necessary approval, it shouldn't mean the end of CAMRA.

With hindsight, it definitely was a motion too far (certainly in the way it was worded), and would have lumbered CAMRA with a whole host of distracting side-issues. For example, can you envisage the Campaign having to look after the interests of Foster's drinkers?

The real elephant in the room is one we have both drawn attention to in the past, and is the pressing issue of a declining number of active members, necessary not just to move CAMRA forward, but to maintain the status quo.

Curmudgeon said...

This is an interesting blogpost from Phil Edwards about what the changes to the Articles of Association mean in detail. He is spot-on in describing the Special Resolutions as a "proxy battle" over the contents of the Revitalisation Report.

I don't think in practice changing the emphasis of the campaign will do much, if anything, to address the decline in active membership. That's a wider social trend that isn't specific to CAMRA. People may enthusiastically drink craft keg (although in smaller numbers than often suggested), but it's not something they're going to get off their backsides and actively campaign for, as it's not in any sense under threat.

It's inevitable, if perhaps regrettable, that, over time, CAMRA will become a more top-down and less bottom-up organisation.