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
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
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.