Sunday, 19 August 2012

Handing back the keys

Well, I’ve finally relinquished any official position of responsibility within CAMRA. Some may say “what kept you?” but at last it has happened.

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.


  1. Martin, Cambridge19 August 2012 at 21:31

    That's a shame.

    Will you still vote for pubs for the Beer Guide, which is the one essential thing that CAMRA branches do ?

    By the way - is the SSM website down or has there really been no newsletter (another great thing) for months.

  2. Will you still vote for pubs for the Beer Guide, which is the one essential thing that CAMRA branches do ?

    Yes, I've not withdrawn from day-to-day activities, just ceased to hold a position of responsibility. The Opening Times column will continue as long as the editor is happy to print it.

    By the way - is the SSM website down or has there really been no newsletter (another great thing) for months.

    John Tune, who maintained the website and did the desktop publishing for Opening Times, sadly died around the time of the beer festival. The magazine missed a month but was published again in August, but the domain was registered personally to him and so is proving more difficult to untangle.

  3. this next month or two will see the arrival of the 1000th British brewery so to have a pub crawl around pubs selling well regarded family brewers beer does sound a bit dull.cheers john

  4. The way I see it CAMERA are trying to appease these idiots, they'll all get swept out with the bath water anyway, they need to fight, but they won't. Good riddance to them too I say, it will serve them right for not taking a stand.

    When there's nothing left all of these idiot supporters of the nanny state will only have themselves to blame.

  5. While I disagree with your views on the smoking ban, I highly appreciate your work and effort in highlighting the decline of the British pub, and in my opinion you are doing much more good than some of the 'active' Camra members, or the ones that are turning up in St Albans and think that they are making a difference. I don't think that it makes any difference to your work whether you are in Camra or not to be honest, as you are doing a good and visible job whereas I don't think that Camra are getting the same reach as you in regard of declining pubs. I think that you are correct to focus on pubs and their closure rather than silly arguments about beer styles and such, as the pub has evidently been the focus of British social life for a long time, and this whole culture is rapidly disappearing from many communities.

    Cask ale has been saved, but pubs are in dire need of saving, and while Camra is doing work to highlight this, personally I would like to see 100% of their resources diverted towards this incredibly blatent problem. It doesn't matter how healthy cask ale is if there is nowhere to serve it in.

  6. CAMRA’s depressingly predictable decision not to tackle the embryonic anti-drink movement head-on is a sad one. If there’s one lesson that drinkers should learn from the experiences of smokers, it’s that organisation and joining together under a group banner at the outset is crucial if any form of meaningful opposition is to take place against any determined and media-savvy prohibitionist-type movement. CAMRA, with their historical successes in bringing real ale back from the brink of extinction and making it mainstream again and as a well-known and well-established pressure group, would have been the perfect vehicle for such opposition.

    Their conciliatory forelock-tugging and lily-livered (perhaps not the best phraseology!) response to a monster on the horizon which should look terrifyingly familiar, despite the fact that it’s wearing different clothes, does themselves, and drinkers generally, a huge disservice.

    I suspect that in time CAMRA, along with all drinkers, will recognise this, but probably only once it is far, far too late.

  7. CAMRA are NOT neutral on the smoking ban, they support it, and decline to take part in any campaigns to amend it. Certainly there was a debate in their paper 'What's Brewing' before the ban, and articles pro and con. I wrote one of those articles, and tried to point out among other things that CAMRA was supposed to support freedom of choice, including the freedom to choose according to a minority taste - such as drinking real ale. There are more smokers than real ale drinkers. Anyway, when the ban was passed, their headline read RELIEF OVER SMOKING BAN. That was when I resigned my life membership. Since then, CAMRA has refused to acknowledge the negative effects of the ban, and tries to argue that the ban is an 'opportunity', and that pubs whose trade has been damaged are 'failing to adapt' - it's their own fault, apparently. It does not surprise me that they are now surrendering to the anti-booze brigade. CAMRA lost the plot some time ago.

  8. Martin, Cambridge21 August 2012 at 15:09

    How is Berlin treating the smoker now Joe ? Last I heard Germany was a jumble of enforcement, repeal and indifference.

  9. I don't know why you let it it bother you. It's just a beer club for going out and getting pissed and pretending your a more discerning sort of piss head than the rest.

    It really doesn't matter what mad policies the slightly weird fat jabbas with the CAMRA t shirts that live with their mums think up because it amounts to the sum total of buggar all.

    The world will turn regardless of whether CAMRA support or fight the prohibitionists.

    Just enjoy the piss up for what it is. Best foot forward casketeers.

  10. I too resigned from the committee of my local branch. After 25 years service I decided I'd had enough, especially of GBG surveys and selection meetings, pub of the year contests, regional meetings, price surveys, notifying "What's Brewing" about branch socials, taking and producing minutes of meetings, writing copy and editing a local news-magazine, chasing advertising for the same, and all the other activities I'd given my time for over the past quarter of a century!

    Now I can just turn up to those meetings that take ny fancy, rather than feel obliged to go along to every single one. I can enjoy the benefits of being a CAMRA member, but let others do most of the work. This may sound selfish, but there does come a time when one has to step back and reflect on things, before moving on and letting other people have a go.

    Good luck to you Peter, I'm sure you'll be sorely missed by your local branch, but please continue with your various blogs, whilst at the same time enjoying, like myself, the benefits of being an ordinary member of CAMRA.

  11. @Cookie: that's effectively the intention - just regard it as a beer club rather than a body that actually campaigns for anything.

  12. 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.

    I think there's still a pretty strong conservationist core to CAMRA. The culture and mood of the organisation has changed, largely because of the passage of time - Protz still writes in the old I suppose you young people won't remember Trubsock's Best... style, but it doesn't work so well now that most members genuinely are too young to remember the beers CAMRA was set up to save, and frankly don't care. But CAMRA is still fundamentally about saving cask beer - and restoring it to the predominance it had in British drinking culture 50 years ago - and the job is far from done.

    I'd turn your statement on its head - to the extent that you've started to want some Libertarianism with your conservat[ion]ism, you've set yourself on a divergent course from CAMRA's current policy-makers, most if not all of whom are equally passionately committed to the survival/revival of cask beer. (Even if they're also mistaken about the smoking ban and horribly wrong about minimum pricing.)

  13. "Cask beer" was only ever a proxy for "distinctive, traditional British beer", even though in the 1970s (and for a long time afterwards) it was a pretty good proxy.

    I agree there remains a strong element of conservationism/conservatism within CAMRA, which occasionally surfaces in the letters page of What's Brewing, but seems increasingly at variance with the activities and policy stances of the activists.

    To a very large extent, the demand for cask beer is now satisfied by market forces which it certainly wasn't in the corporatist days of the 1970s. The threat is not that people will drink keg, but that people increasingly will not drink in pubs at all, and it is that to which the leadership takes an extremely blinkered view.

    I know very well that a lot of what I once cherished in pubs has gone forever, but much of what is left will be gone too unless people make a stand over it. And, even if they fail, at least they will have tried.


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