Monday, 9 April 2018

Going against the grain

I have been a member of the Campaign for Real Ale since 1975. I was 20 years old at the time and CAMRA was very much a young persons' organisation. There were older members of course, and it was good talking to them, as many had been drinking before keg, and top-pressure dispensed beer appeared on the scene.

Virtually all draught beer was cask back then, and there was still a healthy sprinkling of local independent brewers spread throughout the country, but whilst it was good listening to these older drinkers, and learning what beers were available, twenty of thirty years previously, there's no getting away that in the main most CAMRA members were under thirty or, like me, in their early twenties.

Four decades later, and the reverse is true, with the over 50's making up the majority of the membership, and people in their 20's as rare as hen's teeth. This is now a major problem for the Campaign, and it's no exaggeration to say that unless more volunteers come forward and CAMRA, manages to attract new blood onto its ranks, it will die on its feet.

I have first hand experience of this within my own local CAMRA branch, where we have struggled for some time to fill all the various posts on the committee. I don't want to pre-empt anything, but I strongly suspect that when we hold our AGM later this month, we may even have trouble filling some of the more important positions (Chairman, Social Secretary and Treasurer).

I am sure we are not alone in this, and as I have written before, there is no easy answer. CAMRA has been well aware of this situation for some time, which is why the organisation embarked on its Revitalisation Project. I have no intention of going over the findings of the project, or the in-depth analysis which resulted from it; especially as matters are about to come to a head, and this is what leads me on to the all important Special Resolutions which CAMRA'S 190,000+ members are being asked to vote on.

CAMRA'S National Executive, in effect the organisation's directors, believe that by broadening the Campaign's appeal and changing not just its remit but its entire articles of association, CAMRA will receive a much needed shot in the arm and experience a new lease of life. Without going into too much detail, the people behind the Revitalisation Project are unashamedly chasing after the so-called "Craft-Beer" sector, with all that entails.

Whether the younger generation, which makes up the bulk of the flourishing craft beer scene, will want to get involved with an organisation which, up until now, has shunned them, remains to be seen. Personally I don't see anything more than a slight trickle of new blood finding its way into CAMRA'S ranks; and that's being optimistic! Despite this I do feel that the campaign has to try something, and for this reason I voted in favour of all the Special Resolutions, with one notable exception.

I fully understand why CAMRA felt it had to go down the path of change, because not to do so would, in my opinion, be a betrayal of the membership, and could also spell the end for what has been labelled "Europe's most successful consumer organisation". So whilst it may seem strange for someone like me, who voted for the country to remain a member of the European Union, to then be challenging the established order by voting for change, I feel it is the only way forward for CAMRA.

There's no guarantee of course that the Special Resolutions will be carried. For them to take effect will require a "super majority" of 75% of the votes to be in favour, rather than just a simple majority; something David Cameron would have been wise to insist on! With the majority of CAMRA's active members likely to oppose the changes, it might be difficult to achieve even a simple majority.

Voter apathy is another problem, and the Campaign's attempt to involve more of its members in the democratic process has not been a success. It is claimed that only 5,000 members voted in last year's National Executive elections. Although this is an improvement on the typical AGM attendance of 1,000; the forum where policy was, and to a certain extent still is decided, it doesn't say much for the commitment of the Campaign's other 185,000 members.

We will know the outcome of the vote soon enough, but whichever way it goes it's worth me placing on record that I have been disillusioned with CAMRA for some time. In fact for the past couple of years I have seriously considered whether I wish to remain a member of an organisation which seems increasingly irrelevant in the modern world. Over the years I have put my heart and soul into the Campaign of Real Ale, so in many ways it would be sad for me and CAMRA to part company. Before committing to anything though, I will see what the outcome is of the Revitalisation Project, and will also wait and see what fallout there is from the vote.

I don't have life membership, and still have seven months membership remaining before deciding whether or not I wish to renew my subscription, so there's no hurry as far as I am concerned. But there's no getting away from the fact that CAMRA has reached a crossroads and is at a point where it can either move boldly forward, or literally wither away on the hop-bine

Finally, the Special Resolution I voted against was the one which proposed including cider and perry amongst CAMRA's campaigning aims. I joined a group which campaigned for better beer, not for cider and perry. Lovers of these drinks should go off and form their own campaign and not hang on the back of CAMRA's coat tails!


Russtovich said...

"I have been a member of the Campaign for Real Ale since 1975"

Which is when you should have sprung for the lifetime membership. ;)
(I just saw your post on Martin's blog)

"Finally, the Special Resolution I voted against was the one which proposed including cider and perry amongst CAMRA's campaigning aims."

Strangely enough, when I saw your remark earlier about one notable exception that was what sprang to mind. :)

Other than that I can't really comment. Cask beer over here is as rare as hen's teeth. I'm quite happy with keg since that's what I'm used to. I agree with the 'non-beer' lot starting their own organisation. And I'm not sure about luring in the craft crowd. Most craft is keg is it not?

Without going too far off topic I'll just say that this lack of new blood is not unique to CAMRA (for example, when I was in Belgium with my brother a few years ago I was surprised at the number of churches being sold and turned into apartments). I think society (civilization?) is changing. Maybe it always has; but it's different when you're living thru it and are getting on in years.

Ok, enough deep thoughts for now. My wife apparently is recovering nicely from her back-to-back surgeries almost three weeks ago, so it's time to take her for a drive to possibly purchase a soft ice cream thingy for her lunch truck, and then go have a (keg) craft beer at a small brewpub. :)


Professor Pie-Tin said...

CAMRA is a useful metaphor for another acronym UKIP.
Both have served their purpose well but times have changed,people have moved on and now both are populated mainly by the elderly preparing to shuffle off this mortal coil.
I suspect whatever Dad Rock new image CAMRA tries to project will be met with disinterest by craft beer drinkers.
And probably by CAMRA members themselves.
Spoons long since took over CAMRA's mantle as the saviour of traditional beer.

Paul Bailey said...

That’s great news about your wife Russ, and good to hear that she’s able to accompany you on a drive out. Please pass on my very best wishes to her.

With regard to CAMRA, they didn’t offer life membership in the early days, as they probably never envisaged the organisation lasting anywhere near as long as it has. As I mentioned on Martin’s blog, I wasn’t in a position financially to take up life memberships when it did become available, but at least now I have the option of resigning, should I wish.

As you point out, there are other areas and organisations which are crying out for new blood, so this problem isn’t unique to CAMRA.

Prof, I tend to agree with your comparison between CAMRA and UKIP, although I’m sure there are members of both organisations who will claim that neither have completely achieved their purpose. It will be interesting to see what happens to both in the coming years.

Spoons are doing a good job in promoting cask beer, but are, for many, somewhat of a “distress purchase”. Perhaps I am getting old, but give me a proper pub any day.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

No, Prof, I suspect that many UKIP members are bitterly disappointed to discover that they have failed to secure BBC sports programmes with military music as signature tunes, family evenings spent in, sticking page after page of bone glue-tasting Green Shield stamps into booklets, a choice of Hirondelle or Blue Nun at the off licence, bakelite telephone handsets with rotary dials, and half-timbered Morris travellers, with their exhaust pipes merrily trumpeting away?

I'd say that CAMRA has been a towering success by comparison.



Professor Pie-Tin said...

@ Ethelred The Unsteady

Bravo at your attempt to be humorous - everyone likes a trier.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Paul - I think UKIP's goose is well and truly cooked and I say that as someone who happily contributed to their cause until the moment the referendum result was announced.
At that moment its raison d'ĂȘtre disappeared and after Farage wisely exited the stage with his work done a succession of charlatans have failed to fill his capable boots.
CAMRA will plough on I've no doubt but as you've found yourself it's becoming increasingly difficult to raise enthusiasm even on a local level for the continued campaign.
I've been to many GBBFs over the years but eventually gave up after emerging from Olympia full to the cap badge and thinking everything I'd just drunk all tasted pretty much the same.
The best and most interesting beer I've drunk since then has almost all been keg and the worst-kept and sometimes downright horrible ale has been cask.
I agree with you though that a proper pub serving decent ale is still a joy.

Ethelred the Unsteady said...

"Capable", prof?

Even you could have made paper planes and flicked food about in the EU Parliament with your twenty-odd mates, for twenty or thirty million of the taxpayers' money for the term couldn't you? And parroted what the Daily Express had been scripting you for the past couple of decades? Just one out of forty-two fisheries debates attended?

Yes, everyone indeed loves a trier.

CAMRA worked like trojans by that measure.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Oh dear,you're working yourself up into a right old lather, luvvie.
Calm yourself down with a bit of Remainer wisdom from dear old Ken Clarke.

There now,that wasn't so difficult was it ?

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Haha! Have the last word prof, but answer me this first: If UKIP voters love England so much, then why do they leave it covered in staffy muck, cigarette ends, and used scratch cards?

CAMRA members seem that bit more civically-minded IMHO.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

So let me get this straight - you're blaming UKIP voters for littering Britain ?
You've lost the plot old son.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

After my many years of watching and listening, I would say, prof, that out of Lab, Con, Green, LD and UKIP voters, the last are the most likely to leave litter, dog muck, and cigarette ends in their wake, yes. (That's not to mention the fly-tipping of cash-in-hand, tax-dodging tradesmen's waste either.)

But that's "patriotism" these days, isn't it?

What a woolly scarf eh?

(Mine's a pint of the finest. Don't mention it.)

Professor Pie-Tin said...

I think I prefer the Ethelred The Unready who was at least trying to be funny.
Now you're just coming across as scattergun desperate.
Let it go son.You're making a tit of yourself.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Prof, I haven't needed to try to be funny for some time, and maybe I'm out of practice.

My sides have only just stopped aching from the Exit Poll announcement at 2200 last June 8th.

Paul Bailey said...

Woa, steady on people. I take the evening off to go to the pub and all hell breaks loose. I was at a CAMRA function as well, which is what this post is supposed to be about.

I'm at work at the moment so haven't got time to reply properly, but can we please get this post back on subject and away from the obnoxious Nigel Farage; a self-serving charlatan who has done untold damage to our country.

Thanks. Paul .

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Apologies for the slapstick, Paul.

Yes, in 1976, I was sat in The Trip To Jerusalem, Nottingham, with a pint of Marston's Pedigree, and some friends. Between contemplating the tiny ripples, which occasionally spread across the surface of our beer (from grains of grit falling from the sandstone ceiling) we chatted about the relatively newly-formed CAMRA, and whether or not to join it.

The irony is, that had it been less successful, then I almost certainly would have done that. However, thanks to its efforts, real ale soon became generally more widely available, and coupled with the fact that I had a lot going on back then already, the topic lost its urgency.

And there's the crux of it to this day, perhaps.



Professor Pie-Tin said...

Well,as you know Paul we beg to differ about Nigel Farage who is considered to be a hero by a great many people in this country for helping to deliver the magnificent referendum result.
Like all politicians he has his faults but in terms of influence and achieving his lifetime's ambition in politics there are few equals in the UK at the moment.
Certainly when compared to the risibile Nick Clegg who gets knighted for leading his party into oblivion.
At least Farage keeps his word.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

I was in the Black Lion, Llandaff, a few months back.

There were a group of tradesmen and the like, enjoying an "after-work" pint. One of them had a reel of yellow PVC tape, which was a perfect match for his car number plate, or so he claimed, and he'd used it to conceal the little ring of gold-on-blue stars thereon. "No one pushes us British about" he proudly proclaimed.

A few minutes later, his 'phone rang, and he disappeared, leaving his pint. When he failed to return, I asked one of his hitherto companions if all was OK. "Oh yes. This often happens" said one of them. "He's on a zero-hours contract".

So drop in there to enjoy the fruits of CAMRA's labours. Especially if you enjoy unwitting irony.

CAMRA's membership are clearly motivated by a love of aspects of material reality, and pursue their aims by responding rationally to evidence, to facts. There would seem to be an urgent need for such an approach though society generally of late.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

He probably received an urgent call to go and pick up a sweet wrapper dropped by a passing member of UKIP on his way to his half-timbered Morris Traveller.
Fail to prepare,prepare to fail and all that.

Paul Bailey said...

Last night's CAMRA get-together was at the George in Tunbridge Wells, where the branch presented the landlord with his certificate for winning West Kent Pub of the Year. There was a good mixed crowd in the pub, with an excellent selection of both cask and key-keg beers on offer.

This for me, is what CAMRA is all about - the enjoyment of good beer, irrespective of storage or dispense methods, and this is why I voted in support of the Special Resolutions designed to bring the Campaign into the 21st Century. Unfortunately, there are still too many in the organisation who are bound by dogma, rather than what the beer actually tastes like.

Anonymous said...

Political interlude apart, a fascinating post Paul.

Will real ale die if CAMRA does (and it could well die if the active membership keeps resigning/retiring in current numbers). There seems plenty of cask on the bar, and plenty of younger folk drinking it in SOME pubs, though many is the time I'll not see a pint of real ale served while I'm there, except in Spoons.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Writing as an outsider, but also as one to whom real ale and British pubs are dear, it seems to me that there are a number of possibilities for CAMRA's members.

I've said elsewhere, that one of these would amount to little more than a name change, to something like The Real Ale Preservation Society, and it could then take its place beside such as the Campaign For The Protection Of Rural England, the Open Spaces Society, and other such august bodies.

It would all depend on consensus, and I commend the hard work done in trying to establish one, but I'm not sure that the right questions have been asked of the membership. Paul describes above very clearly his reasons for being a member, and they would still be fulfilled in an organisation such as I imply with that one example, or so it seems to me.

However, just like the referendum on the EU, this need not be a once-in-a-century vote, and whatever is decided can be un-decided, if there's a will among those with the franchise.



Paul Bailey said...

Martin, I don’t think for one moment that real ale will die if CAMRA does, but I also don’t see CAMRA disappearing; certainly not in the short term. The smaller brewers, and particularly the micro’s, have too much invested in cask ale to suddenly drop it, and many would not be able to afford the additional investment necessary for keg.

Turning to “key-keg”, I really don’t think this is sustainable in the long term, as the containers are “single-use” items, and are also non-recyclable (at present). Those brewers who are using them, either have to absorb the cost of the “key-keg”, or pass it on to the pub or bar. The latter are then saddled with the problem, and potential costs, of disposing of these containers.

Cask (real ale), is relatively simple in comparison, requires less equipment, is more “natural” and is far more environmentally friendly. It’s Achilles heel though, is quality and as you point out you don’t see it being drunk everywhere.

As an aside, my own CAMRA branch seemed pretty upbeat at Tuesday’s presentation. Many had arrived straight from a meeting to discuss this year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival, and were fired up with enthusiasm regarding the event. So despite the slightly pessimistic tone of my post, I am not going to write the branch off just yet!

Paul Bailey said...

Ethelred, whilst changing the organisation’s name is a good idea in principle, I think there is too much invested in the name “CAMRA” for it to happen. Also, CAMRA is well known, even outside the immediate circle of beer geeks. For these reasons, I can’t see a name change going ahead, but never say never!

This leads on nicely to your last point, which I won’t say too much on, for fear of sparking off a flurry of “You lost, get over it”, comments. I will say though, there’s a real sense of Schadenfreude with the way the whole sorry process is going at the moment, and with luck the whole thing will blow up in the government’s face.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

" The whole sorry process " seems to be progressing reasonably well at the moment.
Phase One passed off without too much bother.
Negotiations are carrying on as we speak,the economy hasn't imploded,the UK remains the single most popular destination in Europe for inward foreign investment,the jobless total is at a 42-year low,figures out today from the ONS show UK manufacturers recorded their second-highest levels of profitability ever,all the major car companies have announced expansion plans since the Brexit vote,bankers are not leaving the City in their thousands ( Goldman Sachs CEO and arch-Remainer Lloyd Blankfein has today admitted he was completely wrong about Brexit as the company presses ahead with a new £1 billion HQ in London) .... I could go on but you catch my drift.
Of course there's many a slip twixt cup and lip and we're in for some tough negotiations but all things considered I'd say everything's going tickety-boo at the moment.
I know there are still Continuity Remainers like the last Japanese soldier in the jungle insisting the war isn't over but it seems to me much of Britain has shrugged its shoulders and said lets get on with it.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Thanks for the reply Paul.

The name change idea was just a "for instance" really, and I think that your response probably speaks for many of your fellow members.

My main points were my wondering whether members' reasons for becoming and retaining membership had been properly analysed, and the fact that if CAMRA's objectives can be changed once, then they can be changed again if the members wanted that.

Prof, your kind remind me of the fanatical Islamists, who, after a vote to become an Islamic state, their first act is to change the constitution to prohibit any further voting on the matter. (I surmise that the irony would be lost on the humourless half-wits among both kinds.)



Paul Bailey said...

May I ask you Professor, if you are still gainfully employed, and if so do you work in an industry which depends on complex supply chains and significant amounts of cross-border trading? Does the industry you work in depend on adherence to internationally recognised standards? Does your company export a large percentage of its products to the European Union and transport them in a seamless manner across borders, without the payment of tariffs or unnecessary customs checks?

Unless you can answer yes to at least one of the above questions, don’t have the temerity to preach how wonderful Brexit is going to be, and how it’s going to make us all better off. The government’s own “secret” studies show that in virtually every sector, the UK economy will be much worse off, yet they’re too scared to back away now, because of “the will of the people”; a phrase used by both Hitler and Stalin as an excuse to strip the populace of its rights and freedoms.

We are no longer a global power and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. The majority of our trade is with Europe; a market which is right on our doorstep. Our membership of the EU has transformed Britain from the “Sick man of Europe”, to a successful, modern and outward looking country.

Brexit is already turning us into a nasty, suspicious, xenophobic and inward looking country, trying to relive past glories and becoming increasingly obsessed with the past. Films about Dunkirk, Churchill and a war which ended over 70 years ago, only serve to reinforce this obsession.

The editor of a certain hate-filled daily newspaper, dreams of taking the country back to the 1950’s; a time he considers a truly “golden age”. His paper, along with several others, has told lie after lie about the European Union, poisoning the already narrow minds of the “Little Englanders” who lap up this black propaganda on a daily basis.

This is not the sort of country we should bequeath to the next generation, and I am growing increasingly tired of those who cling to the myths and falsehoods surrounding Brexit.

Slowly, but surely, Theresa May is having to abandon her previous non-negotiable red lines, as one by one it becomes clear just what we are throwing away by wanting to leave the largest and most successful trading block in the world. So things aren’t exactly going tickety-boo for the incompetent bunch of half-wits running the country.

Now, as I said earlier, please let’s get back to CAMRA, and leave Brexit to disappear up its own backside!

Professor Pie-Tin said...

I follow one or two beer blogs like yourself and Martin's and I simply don't recognise this dire picture you paint of a " nasty, suspicious, xenophobic and inward-looking country, trying to relive past glories and becoming increasingly obsessed with the past. "
Mostly I see people carrying on their lives as normal seemingly unperturbed by the vote which happened nearly two years ago - certainly the opinion polls on Brexit have hardly moved a smidgeon since the referendum.
Neither you or Martin ever describe conversations in pubs you frequent as being like that - normally it's just blokes chuntering on about everyday this or that stuff.
And likewise,these " films about Dunkirk,Churchill and the 2nd World War " which you think reinforce your view of Britain as being jingoistic Little Englanders. Do you think the makers brought these out to capture the post-referendum zeitgeist ?
Generally a film takes between 3-5 years between original idea,concept,funding,filming,editing and distribution.These would have been planned long before the Brexit referendum - trust me I know this because I worked in the business.
And this idea that businesses which rely on cross-border complex supply chains which are going to be paralyzed by Brexit - if that's the case why has industry flourished since the referendum and the predicted recession and downturn simply not happened ?
I've never met you but you always struck me as a thoughtful,intelligent person who is occasionally prone to hyperbole and intransigence.
I can only imagine how deeply unhappy you will be if Brexit turns out to be a success.
It may or it may not but I think you're being disingenuous if you don't think the majority of Brits think it's worth giving it a try.
It's certainly not not going to happen.
My only other observation is that the majority of bitterness,ill-feeling,abuse,sarcasm,anger,desperation,despair and utter unrestrained fury is almost all coming from those who voted Remain and who still refuse to accept the result of a democratic vote.

Paul Bailey said...

Thank-you for your measured response, Prof. I won't reply to the individual points, otherwise this whole thing could run and run, but I will respond to your comment about conversations in pubs.

It was drummed into me, early on in my drinking career, that money, religion and politics were taboo subjects of conversation in a pub, so by and large I have largely avoided talking about them. Strange as it may seem, I wasn't particularly interested in politics either, until "Call me Dave" decided a referendum might get him re-elected. It obviously worked, but at what cost?

If, and it's a big if, Brexit does turn out a success, then I assure you I won't be unhappy, as that would be like cutting off my nose to spite my face. However, all the pointers are it will be a massive own goal. Playing politics, which really is what all this is about, is never a good idea, and when it means gambling with the future of an entire country, then count me out.

I will leave it there. Despite having never met you, my instincts tell me you are a decent fellow, who it would be good to share a few drinks and a few tales with. So let's call it a truce and get back to the real important stuff, like beer, pubs and drinking!

Cheers, Paul

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Prof, drop into a back-street pub in Dewsbury.

Let's not forget that the BNP once polled six percent, and that those people are the hard core of the Leave vote.

Yes, Nigel Farage's Sunday lunch at the Queens in Downe was enlivened by a bunch of LD-voting geography teachers in clown outfits with party squeakers. ("Terrorists", the Daily Express suggested that they were.)

Jo Cox was less fortunate.

Sorry to be awkward.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Attributing Jo Cox's death to the result of the Brexit referendum is pretty low rent stuff even for you and is completely wrong.
It's not just me saying this but her grieving widower has made this clear as well.
Once again like your infantile Ukip littering theory I'm afraid you're making an utter fool of yourself in order to prove a point.
But I'm in agreement with Paul - time to knock this particular Brexit thread on the head.
Back to drink-related comments for me.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

Prof old chap.

Yes, if you've had enough of the game that you started then do, please take your bat home ;-)

It was Thomas Mair's judge, not me, who had the trial classified as a terrorist one, and I never made the claim that you attribute to me either, just that I doubt that the defendant was a Remain voter. You traduce Jo's widower rather too. The commentariat across Mainland EU are near-unanimous that the crime was closely connected with the inflammatory Leave campaigns, whatever the UK's Mogadon Media have managed to convince some of the public here.

Have a pint of OBB for me.



Paul Bailey said...

Regrettably, comments on this post are now closed.

Dave said...

Back on topic. As I watch this from a distance it seems like CAMRA is agonizing too much over its reason and not enough about the methods. The preservation of good cask beer is a good reason to exist. We live in an online world and people do participate in events that are fun. Work to get people into the pubs more than anything. Make Whatpub a game. Visit all the cask pubs in a county and earn a free pint. Make cask fun again. Promote town tours like Derby and Norwich do with their realale city promotion. We use the CAMRA resources to focus our travel. In some small way that adds revenue to good pubs. I would like to see them focus on encouraging behavior. If people drink it, they will return. I hope. Lovely places your pubs.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for your “on topic” contribution, Dave. It’s always good to receive comments from overseas; especially as they can add a different perspective to the debate. There are some good ideas amongst you suggestions, and I particularly like one about extending the “Ale City” concept.

Pleased to learn that you enjoy our pubs, and our beer. If Kent features on the itinerary for your next visit, please get in touch, as I would be happy to show you a few of our pubs.

Dave said...

We will definitely do that Paul. We love local tours.