Sunday, 10 October 2010

Campaign with a Capital C

There have recently been a few ructions about the undemocratic proposal by CAMRA’s National Executive to remove the right of members to set the annual membership fees. I am a member of a professional accountancy institute, and that august body allows its members to vote on fees each year, so why it is such a problem for CAMRA I struggle to understand.

In this month’s issue of What’s Brewing, Colin Valentine, the CAMRA chairman, says “We are not a drinking club. We are not an appreciation society. We are a Campaign with a capital C.” But for many members the first two are precisely how they regard CAMRA. As I have described here, it has been extremely successful both in creating a social network of beer enthusiasts, and in promoting the appreciation of “quality” beer.

However, looking at the other side of the coin, in what campaign, as such, has CAMRA ever achieved success – setting aside the infamous Beer Orders which proved to be largely a disaster for the pub trade and the brewing industry?

It has also, of course, signally failed to campaign effectively, if at all, against the biggest legislative assault on pubs in its lifetime, not to mention doing little to confront the rise of the neo-Prohibitionists.

The question must be asked, what precisely, beyond the general appreciation of good beer and good pubs, is CAMRA campaigning for today? Possibly this is something that the current strategic review being carried out by ex-MP John Grogan will help to resolve, but don’t hold your breath.


  1. Progressive Beer Duty? Also in fairness the Beer Orders were not the same as the ideas CAMRA submitted.

    You are of course spot on with everything else, their position on Neo-Pros is particularly self-defeating. I suspect most members now join for the £20 of JDW vouchers.

  2. Yes, PBD is a good point, and one I mentioned in the article I linked to. But, sadly, at present what it mainly seems to do is featherbed a collection of crappy micros who don't have to try too hard.

  3. I hope if the subs go up, the JDW vouchers go up accordingly ;-)

  4. It would, perhaps be nice if CAMRA was a serious campaigning organisation, as our good chairman has recently stated. “We are not a drinking club. We are not an appreciation society. We are a Campaign with a capital C.”

    However, the bulk of CMRA's 100,000+ members are probably content to just pay their annual subscription, receive their "What's Brewing" each month and attend the odd beer festival. We have over 400 members in our branch area and yet at last week's social just four people bothered to turn out.

    As a branch we get innundated with all sorts of CAMRA campaigns that we're supposed to support. This month it's Cider and Perry, next month it could be Local Pubs Week. Next year it will probably be National Cask Ale Week, Demand a Full Pint Week, and not forgetting LocAle.

    NE members need to realise that when we get just 1% of our membership turning up to a branch social, it's very difficult to do any sort of campaigning, let alone have the necessary foot soldiers to run some of the aforemenioned events.

    For my mind, as a member of over thirty years standing, I'm just happy on those occasions when we do get an attendance that gets into double figures. Dismiss it as a drinking club if you like Colin, but don't be-little people who fork out ther subscriptions each year if this is what they want to do, and don't take the proverbial by increasing these subscriptions without consulting the members!

  5. I think you are being a little unfair about PBD. While it is true that is has tempted into the trade people who should not be allowed within a million miles of a mash tun, there are plenty of better micros who have used the tax break to invest and expand.

  6. And when it comes to the Grogan review, I'm on the committee, so maybe you should hold your breath!

  7. It will be interesting to see what the Grogan review comes up with, and I'm not dismissing it out of hand, but past experience does suggest the chances of it being a damp squib are fairly high. I've also seen rumours (which were on the S&SM e-mail group, so you may have seen them too) that some of the hierarchy are dead against it and will do their best to shunt it into a siding. If you're on the committee, then perhaps you have seen my submission (which didn't mention the s****** b** once).

  8. An organisation like CAMRA belongs it its members, not the National executive, so there is no case for taking away the right to determine subs away from them.

    I think most members regard CAMRA is a combination of campaign and drinking club, even those who don't attend meetings. There is nothing wrong with this. I was a trade union officer for 24 years, and after the business was done, we'd sometimes go to the pub and socialise. Doing so built up friendships and fostered a collective spirit; I can also remember disagreements that seemed intractable in a meeting being resolved, or a compromise found, in the pub afterwards.

    CAMRA is not the same as a trade union, but as it's about beer, the processes I have described apply even more so. Enjoying yourself and campaigning are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can complement each other. Colin Valentine's failure to recognise this shows his inexperience as a campaigner.

  9. The market share for real ale is considerably below the share it had when CAMRA was formed in 1971; It has been declining for many years and is now at a level where more breweries (especially the larger independents for whom progressive duty relief is little help) are likely to close or be taken over. Yet CAMRA's response to all this has been feeble at best and has even sunk to the depths where it has helped pay for a man working in lager advertising to prepare reports telling us that everything in the garden is lovely.
    Curmudgeon is spot on in expecting the Grogan review either to be a whitewash or else be kicked into touch. Exactly the same thing happened to the Responsible Drinking Task Group set up in 2008. It was put into the hands of a most ineffectual individual and held one meeting in 2008. Since then there has been only a short get together at the AGM cut short because the ineffectual chairman wanted to catch an early train home! As a result, several important topics which the first task group meeting had identified as worthy of review have never been discussed. All because another individual (not on the Executive) didn't like the idea of someone other than himself coming up with ideas.

  10. Colin Valentine filled a whole page of the NE House Magazine (aka What's Brewing) with absolute drivel, none of which advanced any cogent argument for letting the NE set subs without asking for Members' approval at the AGM. It looks as though Valentine is seeking to emulate his predecessor, who was without doubt the worst Chairman CAMRA ever had. Oh my Masseys and my Brutons long ago.

  11. Good on yer mate! Your site acts as a welcome conduit for the ordinary CAMRA member to be heard. Anonymous (the other one) describes What's Brewing as the NE House Magazine. Not a bad description of this Panglossian rag. There was a time when debate on important issues was conducted in WB's pages, and it was possible to differ from the conventional wisdom. CAMRA is now in the hands of third rate control freak,s so long may your column prosper. A few other CAMRA local mags should follow your example.


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