Thursday, 1 February 2018

Evolve or face extinction?

As I’m sure many of you will be aware, a couple of weeks ago, CAMRA announced that it was set to widen its remit beyond that of campaigning purely for cask-conditioned beer (real ale). Instead the group intends to represent “drinkers of quality beers, ciders and perries of all types”. It would also be moving its focus beyond traditional pubs.

This new approach follows the so-called the Revitalisation Project, which was launched at the start of 2016. Described as a root and branch review of its purpose and objectives, the project attempted to engage with as many of CAMRA's 190,000 members as possible. The project was meant to have concluded a year later, but to the amazement of many, the findings were kicked into touch.

They have now been re-drafted in the form of a series of far-reaching proposals which, if approved at CAMRA’s Annual General Meeting in April, will see a new focus for the 46-year-old consumer organisation, and a radical change of direction. CAMRA members will also be asked to consider changes to the organisation's Articles of Association which will widen the range of types of beer that it represents - including quality beer which does not meet the organisation's definition of "real ale".

CAMRA claim that while continuing to advocate that "real ale is the pinnacle of the brewer's craft", the Campaign's wider focus will mean all drinkers who enjoy a range of beers, ciders and perries will feel welcome in the organisation.

The recommendations also propose that as a result of widening its scope of interest CAMRA will be able to represent and engage with all beer drinkers and with all pubgoers, irrespective of what they choose to drink, increasing its ability to campaign in the interests of a much larger constituency.

Now comes the radical bit; if the changes are approved, the Campaign will, “work to provide an enhanced education and information experience for its members, and all drinkers who attend CAMRA festivals”. The group claims this will help them appreciate and learn about all types and styles of beer, cider and perry - and make informed decisions about what constitutes "quality".

Sounds good on paper, but it will be interesting to see how the Campaign puts it into practice. I appreciate the thinking behind this, but CAMRA will need to take care not to come across as too patronising or condescending particularly towards drinkers of “other types of beer”.

In seeking approval for their recommendations, the Campaign's leadership argue that a wider appeal and closer connection with the current revolution in beer and bars will enable the organisation to connect with modern-day beer drinkers and pub goers. They claim this will strengthen CAMRA's campaigning voice: enabling it to increase the already-considerable influence it exerts on the Government and industry decision-makers.

To summarise:

CAMRA festivals will offer a wider range of quality beers, ciders and perries in all formats.

CAMRA will  now engage with drinkers of all types - with the aim of taking them on a “journey of discovery” of why real ale, cider and perry is particularly special.

CAMRA will provide information about all kinds of beer, not just real ale, as well as opportunities for members to learn more about brewing and the different types and styles available to drinkers.

CAMRA will recognise a wider range of drinks and establishments in its local and national competitions.

These proposals do represent a radical shift in policy from CAMRA, so it will be interesting to see how they are received by the membership at large. Whilst giving them a cautious welcome, I have mixed feelings about some of them; not because I feel they are wrong as such, but more so because I feel they may fundamentally change the nature of CAMRA – an organisation I have been a member of for over 40 years.

Some may argue that CAMRA needs to innovate or risk withering on the bine, and that might be true, but in trying to transform itself into a much broader church which appeals to all beer drinkers (and to cider and perry drinkers as well?), might well be a step too far.

I am happy to drink “key-keg” beer, although I'd prefer it to be served just a few degrees warmer, but I am beginning to have my doubts as to how the new approach will actually win over drinkers of “other types of beer”. From what I have read, many other writers feel the same, and these excellent pieces from Pub Curmudgeon, The Crafty Beeress, Ed Wray and Ben Viveur are all well worth a read  in order to see this major policy shift from a different angle.

Don’t get me wrong, the intentions are good, and there is no doubt that CAMRA has to change, but will the changes achieve the results the Revitalisation Committee thought they would, when they embarked on this exercise?

Just under two years ago, a friend and I went along to one of the consultation evenings which aimed at kick-starting the process. Apart from the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Michael Hardman, one of the four original founding members of CAMRA, let’s just say I came away felling under-whelmed.

My friend and his brother, who also attended the meeting, felt the same way too. Not only did the debate which followed the presentation, get too bogged down in specifics, but those present seemed to divide into two distinct groups, split roughly 50:50. So just like the EU referendum, there seemed a schism between those who wanted to see CAMRA innovating and moving forward, and those who wished to maintain the status quo.

With this in mind it will be interesting which way the argument goes, when the proposals are put to the membership, and they have the chance to vote on them. On that last point, there is no need to physically turn up at April’s AGM, as all members will be allowed to vote, either electronically or, for the computer illiterate, by post.

We should all know the result in a few months’ time, so which way will it go, and like the EU referendum, will it be a cliff-hanger?


Curmudgeon said...

As I've argued on my blog, to present the Revitalisation proposals primarily as a means of attracting new blood and perpetuating the life of the organisation is putting the cart before the horse. Either something's worth doing in its own right, or it isn't.

The government have been widely criticised for not putting contingency plans in place for a Leave vote in the EU referendum (and indeed for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum). It would be interesting to know whether the CAMRA National Executive have given any thought as to what line they will take if some or all of the Revitalisation proposals fail to achieve the necessary majority.

Syd Differential said...

I think it's an inevitable move particularly as so many people,particularly younger ones,are put off by so much lousy cask beer.
And even regular readers of all the pub blogs become aware of just how pissed off even old soaks are at dull samey beer festivals and pubs stocking too many inconsistent cask beers on tap.
In the States where I travel a lot you may not like the fact that virtually all beer sold is keg but I can't recall ever having to send a beer back because it was vinegary/cloudy/too warm etc which I frequently do over here.
CAMRA has admirably served its purpose for decades but beer drinking has changed and evolved rapidly in the UK and it needs to up its game.

Paul Bailey said...

Mudge, the government knows, deep down, that it cocked up over the referendum (no super-majority for what would be a pretty major constitutional change, and no contingency in the event of a vote to leave).

CAMRA appear somewhat smarter; possibly too smart, as according to Ben Viveur, "The recommendations, such as they are, need to be ratified by a membership vote and a 75% majority is required for them to pass".

So, given the entrenchment of many die-hard traditionalists amongst the membership, the whole project might turn out to be a futile one.

Just for the record, like yourself, I am sitting this one out until I've had the chance to properly scrutinise the recommendations.

Syd, I'm perfectly happy with the fact that virtually all beer sold in the US is keg, as that way there's far less chance of careless handling/slow sales spoiling it. Providing Mrs PBT's is fit enough, I will be heading over there myself in August.

It's 10 years since my last visit, and I'm keen to see experience just how much the beer scene has changed over the past decade.

Curmudgeon said...

CAMRA were caught in a cleft stick on this one. If the recommendations had been simply put to the AGM in the normal manner, they would probably have been defeated. Changing the Articles of Association was the only way they could be put to the membership as a whole, which requires a 75% majority.

Super-majorities are a very dangerous thing in politics. The fact that Scottish devolution was approved by the 1979 referendum, but didn't reach the necessary percentage, long rankled north of the border. And if Scottish independence had won by 52% to 48%, but needed 60% to actually pass, you would probably have a revolution in the country.

Paul Bailey said...

CAMRA's AGM's, which only extend voting rights to those who attend, are in themselves archaic, so it would be a positive move to see a change to the Articles of Association.

CAMRA probably are caught in a cleft stick, but a wiser move would have been to have amended the Articles of Association last year, thereby allowing postal/electronic voting on the proposed reforms this year.

With regard to referendums, Clement Attlee famously said "I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and fascism.”

Margaret Thatcher went a stage further, describing referendums as “a device of dictators and demagogues”.

Russtovich said...

Well, at least I now know what Perry means (after wading through searches including singers and what not). :)

"but those present seemed to divide into two distinct groups, split roughly 50:50"

Slightly O/T but 50/50 votes seem to be a thing all over these days. Not sure if it's partly due to social media etc. but good luck getting a consensus on anything these days (apart from ale beats lager of course!). :)

As Syd mentioned you won't find any cask on this side of the pond (or so little as to be insignificant) and I'm quite happy with the beer I'm served. CAMRA has done sterling work over there, but is turning it into CAMRACAP (Ciders and Perries on the end) the way to go? But the again (partly tongue in cheek) LGBT has now morphed into LGBTQQIAAACPPF2K, so maybe it's just a sign of the times? (by that I mean, again, everyone is splintering into smaller and smaller groups in some ways; or bigger and bigger groups of disparate entities in another).

All I know is, they bloody better not get rid of beer entirely! ;)


PS - "or risk withering on the bine,"

Vine dear boy. :)

"I came away felling under-whelmed"

I can see how you'd 'fell' that way, seeing as how I am in tune with the felling of trees in my neck of the woods. ;)

Syd Differential said...

Paul - enjoy your trip to the US but get ready to be faced with an awful lot of IPA hop bombs that all taste exactly the same.
Whereabouts are you heading ?

Syd Differential said...

PS: If the referendum result had gone the other way I'm sure you would have been quite happy with referendums as a way of solving political issues.

Paul Bailey said...

Virginia for the Beer Bloggers Conference and then across to visit my sister who lives about 40 minutes drive from Cleveland, Ohio.

Paul Bailey said...

I wouldn't have been happy, Syd. I thought the whole idea crazy from the start. How can something that complex be decided by a simple yes-no ballot .
The referendum was nothing more than a political stunt. The fact it backfired on Cameron served him right, but meanwhile the country has been left in a mess and Cameron didn't even have the decency to stay on to sort it out .

Paul Bailey said...

I deliberately used the word “bine” Russ, instead of vine. Hops grow on bines; hence my choice of the word. I will correct the other typo, when I get round to it.

CAMRACAP just about sums up the organisation a the moment. We have a group which for the past four and a half decades has campaigned (with considerable success), for the retention, and indeed the wider spread of traditional beer. Quite how cider (and perry, for heaven’s sake), got tagged on at the end is lost in the mists of time, but I’m far from being the only member who thinks cider and perry should have their own separate campaign, rather than clinging to CAMRA’s coat-tails.

Unfortunately, the cider mob are a pretty vociferous bunch, even though they freely admit APPLE (which is what the cider/perry division of CAMRA is called), could not survive without backing (financial and admin), from the Campaign at large.

A poor reason to lumber CAMRA with having to back a drink which is totally different from beer; however “traditional “ it might claim to be!

Russtovich said...

"I deliberately used the word “bine” Russ, instead of vine. Hops grow on bines; hence my choice of the word. I will correct the other typo, when I get round to it."

Ooops! (blush)

Apologies, and touché good sir! (doffs hat)

I feel your pain with regards to APPLE/CAMRA. I know it's cliché these days but...

is nothing sacred? (sigh)


Anonymous said...

Here in Ireland referendums are a regular feature as they must be held whenever there is a proposed change to the constitution.
There were two over the Lisbon Treaty with the voters being "persuaded" to change their minds within a year over the No vote.
And there's an important one coming up over a change in the country's archaic abortion laws.
All of these are complex issues yet the Irish people appear quite happy for them to be an accurate reflection of public opinion.
I tend to agree with Syd - if the Brexit vote had gone the other way would the political establishment be reacting the same way it is now.
And let's be clear - the Remain side left voters in no doubt that a vote for Brexit would mean leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union and that any final result would be binding.
They spent £9million sending out a leaflet to every household in the country doing so.
Anything less than that now - with unelected Lords attempting to sabotage the process and some cack-handed Treasury attempts to create Brino - will I think lead to profound social and political harm to Britain.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Hi Paul - accidentally posted that as Anon.

Paul Bailey said...

We seem to have got side-tracked somehow from the main topic of this post, which is the CAMRA Revitalisation “reforms”, but I will reply to the Professor, who I understand lives in the Irish Republic and will therefore not as affected by Brexit, as those of us residing in the UK.

First point, the Single Market and the Customs Union. Most of the electorate hadn’t a clue about these arrangements, and many of them probably couldn’t have cared less (they might if we crash out of the EU without a deal, and goods start piling up at the ports).

Those of us living in Kent can’t wait until most of the county is turned into a giant lorry park, because ignorant politicians, and equally ignorant Brexit-supporting newspaper editors, don’t understand just how inter-linked international supply chains are. With “just in time” purchasing being the order of the day in most industries, the slightest delay at the ports will cause chaos, all because the Single market is a red-line for Theresa May and her gang of sycophantic cronies.

Second point, the government might well have spent money leafleting every UK household, but then it is the duty of a responsible government to recommend the best course for its citizens, and staying in the EU was definitely that.

Now we have the UK government intent on pursuing a course which many of them know will be very damaging to the UK as a whole. Some are doing this for ideological reasons, some purely for self-gain, but the majority are following this course because it is in the interests of the governing party, and in doing this they are putting the Conservative party above their country.

History will not judge these self-serving fools kindly, but despite mounting evidence of the folly of Brexit, they carry on regardless. UK citizens will be stripped of all the rights and protections they currently enjoy under EU law, and these will not be replaced by new legislation from the British parliament.

If I were you Professor, I would count myself fortunate to reside in a country where citizens rights are still protected.

Now let us please get back to CAMRA, and its own equally divisive issue.