Sunday, 3 June 2012

Fiddling while Rome burns

Let’s imagine that Neville Chamberlain’s National Government had set out their four key policy priorities in the Spring of 1939. And they offered the following:

  • Increase economic growth
  • Reduce unemployment
  • Improve healthcare
  • Enhance transport infrastructure
All very worthy aims, and you couldn’t argue with any of them. But you might feel that, given the international situation, they might have missed something important.

And so, in the Spring of 2012, CAMRA set out their four key campaigns:

  • Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, ciders and perries
  • Stop tax killing beer and pubs
  • Secure an effective government support package for pubs
  • Raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly
Given the unprecedented threat from and influence of the anti-drink lobby, you might have just thought that they would include something like “defend the right of adults to consume alcoholic drinks without unreasonable fiscal or legislative constraints”. But they didn’t.

It could be argued that, by conducting those four campaigns, they are indirectly countering the neo-Pros. But, unless the anti-drink arguments are directly challenged, they will be allowed to pass by default. The alcohol duty escalator, which CAMRA has taken up as a major campaign, is based not only on revenue-raising but also on the belief that Britain collectively drinks too much and a steady ratcheting up of taxation is a good way of countering that. The key reason for opposing it is that it is a broad-brush, indiscriminate measure that will penalise responsible drinkers while doing little for those with genuine alcohol problems.

Ducking out of this debate will, in the long term, prove to be a major miscalculation for CAMRA. And, despite all the fine words about protecting pubs, in a climate where drinking is increasingly stigmatised, it will retreat from the public to the private sphere. As I’ve said in the past, a society in which the regular, moderate consumption of alcohol is viewed in a relaxed, tolerant way as a normal part of everyday life will have successful pubs. On the other hand, pubs will struggle when alcohol is widely regarded in a censorious and disapproving manner.

I’ve long ago reached the conclusion that the great and good of CAMRA will only acknowledge the existence of the neo-Pro juggernaut when it actually runs them down.


  1. These aims didn't come from the great and the good of CAMRA, but from the members; I myself took part in the consultation exercise. Having said that, I agree with many of your general points.

  2. A bit rich of CAMRA gushing out
    crocodile tears for the vanishing Pub,having ccontributed in no small part to the draconian reason for the majority of closures.The sooner the better,
    the membership get their whiskers out of the froth and get a waft of

    The madding crowd

  3. The membership were given a choice between six campaigning priorities, none of which was "combating the anti-drink lobby".

  4. I assume none of the six was "opposing the smoking ban" either. They reap what they sow.

  5. You're right Anon - none was about opposing the smoking ban. How strange for a campaign dedicated to beer (clue in the name). As for "a waft of reality", CAMRA members do tend to get out and go to pubs, unlike you, so who's out of touch?

  6. Although I certainly think you're correct that they should, it's difficult for CAMRA to commit to such a policy while they are still in favour of minimum alcohol pricing.

    One would counteract the other.

  7. These came out of the "Fit for purpose" review that recommended that CAMRA concentrates on doing fewer things well rather that lots of things poorly. And I agree with that recommendation.

    The problem with these campaigns is that they are not SMART which is a business cliché but it does work:

    S: Specific
    M: Measurable
    A: Achievable
    R: Realistic
    T: Time constrained

    Because the other key recommendation in the review was to report back progress and without some of the above, that's not measurable.

    I also get the impression the basic idea behind the review and recommendations is being somehow missed. I can't put my finger on it exactly.

    The next problem I've got as a local branch chairman is exactly *how* can we effect any of these campaigns except the first one. And to a certain extent "Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, ciders and perries" is our reason d'etre and doesn't need to be a specific campaign IMO.

  8. CAMRA is a wonderful thing. I'm fed up with you criticising it. Stop thinking of it as a campaign and just accept it's a beer club with lots of opportunities to get pissed up gratis.

  9. I too took part in the consultation. Frustrated by not being given the option of voting for the major campaign required - the "health police" I made sure I mentioned it in the "anything else" section of the consulation.

    I was amazed that nobody put a motion at the Members weekend that we must campaign against the lobby.

    I'm with Rob in that I find them a pretty toothless & meaningless set of goals.

  10. Peter Alexander did put forward a motion along those lines to the 2011 AGM, but was persuaded to withdraw it following assurances that the matter would be looked at by the NE. I can't say I've seen much evidence of activity on the issue since then.

  11. Although it would have been nice to see CAMRA acknowledging the role which the smoking ban has played in the demise of their supposedly “beloved” pubs, until such a time as they cease to cling resolutely to their “drinking good/smoking bad” attitudes, then they really aren’t in a position to argue with any force against the anti-drink lobby, are they? So it’s no surprise, really, that they’ve ducked the issue altogether.

    Ultimately, they’re got themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – they either make moves to challenge the anti-drink lobby whilst still maintaining their pro-ban stance in order to save face, and thus lay themselves open to (uncomfortably accurate) accusations of hypocrisy; or they do nothing, pretend that the anti-drink lobby isn’t anything to worry about and convince themselves that once all those irresponsible drinkers have been dealt with, the Fight the Demon Drink campaigners will be happy and will just get quietly back into their boxes. Yeah, right.

    It’s “make your mind up time,” CAMRA! It’s your pride or it’s your pubs, but the hard truth is that it can’t be both. So, what’s it to be, then?

  12. Yes, if CAMRA become too outspoken in opposing the anti-drink lobby, it will raise awkward questions of "where were you?" and also mean making common cause with people who are also outspoken opponents of the smoking ban. I struggle to think of many bloggers or people in public life who speak out strongly against the neo-Pros but at the same time support the smoking ban.

    But the option of sticking their heads in the sand and pretending it will all go away becomes less and less credible with every passing day. The alcohol duty escalator, while obviously a revenue-raiser, would not have been possible without the growth of anti-drink sentiment.

    And, when the official health advice seems to be moving to drinking no more than half a unit a day, the figleaf of respectability provided by "21 units a week" is stripped away, and it becomes impossible to claim that "alcoholic drinks can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle" if the official definition is accepted.


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