I have been a member of CAMRA for thirty years, and a Life Member for most of that period. I have put a great deal of effort into the organisation in various roles. I continue to have a very strong commitment to traditional British beer, breweries and pubs. Actually, my will still contains a substantial donation.
It has always been the case that you sign up to a pressure group because of a general fuzzy feeling about the relevant issue, not because of the specific policies, and CAMRA is no exception. If you had a general fondness for traditional pubs and beer, you would, in the early 80s, have happily joined CAMRA and turned a blind eye to all the leftie nonsense in the policy document about banning mass-media alcohol advertising.
However, in recent years, with the growth of anti-pub legislation and anti-drink sentiment, things have become more serious. I understand why CAMRA chose to remain neutral on the smoking ban, given that it was such a divisive issue, although to bewail the decline of pubs while at the same time refusing to condemn the ban is a distinctly hypocritical position. That was not, however, my make-or-break issue.
CAMRA’s response to all the further attacks on responsible drinking has been disappointingly weak and equivocal. Indeed, on some issues it has – shamefully – sought to make common cause with the anti-drink lobby, pathetically trying to claim “we are the good drinkers”, an argument that I doubt will cut much ice. When CAMRA refused to make combating the anti-drink lobby one of its key campaigning priorities, that was the last straw for me.
I also feel that the obvious enthusiasm of so many members for seeking out obscure beers within the “urban beer bubble” creates a self-perpetuating spiral of introspection. In a sense it has become a case of “we are all tickers now”. I despair when members say they have declined to participate in a pub crawl because of the lack of variety, even though most of the pubs concerned belonged to well-regarded family brewers.
Some might say “stay and fight your corner”, but in the absence of any clearly-defined group within CAMRA promoting a strong policy of opposition to the anti-drink lobby, that isn’t really a feasible option.
As a Life Member, resignation would be simply cutting off my nose to spite my face. So I will remain on the sidelines, read the magazines, use a few Spoons vouchers, attend the occasional local branch event (mostly the pub crawls), and enjoy a bittersweet touch of Schadenfreude every time a sacred cow is slaughtered by new legislation.
I continue to believe passionately in what CAMRA was originally set up to defend (this is emphatically a conservative/preservationist position, not a libertarian one). I have not left it; it has left me. If CAMRA ever manages to find a set of balls, they should know where to find me.
For what it’s worth, I’m not remotely bothered by the “craft keg” issue, which strikes me as a classic beer bubble storm in a teacup with minimal relevance to the wider world. There will always be prats in CAMRA who divide beer into “real ale” and “chemical fizz”, but I go by the wise words of founder member Michael Hardman that the organisation is fighting for something, not against something. I have yet to see a craft keg font outside the beer bubble.
I would also add that, if CAMRA had done nothing else, the creation of the National Inventory of unspoilt pub interiors would alone provide an abiding legacy.