Wednesday 29 April 2015

CAMRA – what is it good for?

Yesterday, Boak and Bailey wrote an interesting blogpost entitled Things we Love About CAMRA. Their conclusion was that, “despite its oddities, frustrations and occasional missteps”, overall it did far more good than harm. I made a similar point in a piece called Only Here for the Beer which I wrote ten years ago, before blogs and Twitter had been invented.

Recently, there have been thoughtful posts covering much of the same ground from Paul Bailey and Tandleman. Yes, CAMRA can sometimes come across as irritating, dogmatic and misguided, although very often that is more the fault of individual members rather than the organisation as a whole. At its most recent AGM a number of motions were passed indicating a desire to take a more inclusive and less narrow-minded view of the beer (and cider) world. It’s interesting how in recent years some of the strongest criticism has come from the “craft beer” community, while most of the general public would at worst dismiss CAMRA as well-meaning fuddy-duddies.

In my view, two of its greatest achievements are creating the National Inventory of historic pub interiors, and campaigning successfully to scrap the beer duty escalator and indeed get three years of small duty cuts. This, probably the biggest victory scored against the neo-Prohibitionists in recent years, was achieved through a broad-based campaign that mobilised all beer drinkers and pubgoers, not just real ale lovers.

I still feel that CAMRA could and should do more at a national level to combat the anti-drink lobby, and that it has devoted far too much effort to pubco and planning reform, which are issues that fail to resonate with most members on the ground, and are greatly overstated as reasons for pub decline. There’s also a question mark about what, in the present day, its objectives should actually be. But visit any of the many beer festivals it organises around the country and you will see happiness being spread and interest in beer being stimulated, which can’t be bad.

B&B disabled comments on their blogpost for fear of provoking an almighty row, but feel free to comment here.


  1. Not a lot to disagree with here. Like yourself, I'm not a CAMRA-right-or-wrong sort of member, and I'd agree that some dogmatic members can be downright irritating. The problem is that some of the Campaign's detractors like to go along with CAMRA's Taliban tendency assumption that it speaks for all of us, when it doesn't.

  2. Nothing I would disagree with here, Mudge. The whole PubCo issue is definitely a huge turn-off for most members and it does seem at times that the campaign has lost direction.

    One other big positive development, which has come about in recent years, and which is every bit as noteworthy as the National Inventory (albeit in a very different way), is the WhatPub website/data base. It is already the de facto choice for many CAMRA members, as well as the general public, when it comes to searching out somewhere decent to drink. Others may disagree, but I can foresee a time when WhatPub supersedes the Good Beer Guide.

    For me, personally, that time can’t come quick enough, but I don’t want to spark off a separate debate on that thorny subject here!

    ps. I was somewhat surprised Boak & Bailey disabled the comments setting for their own post on this subject. Perhaps they thought they’d be over-whelmed with having to reply to all the comments.

  3. For my part I agree with everything you've written and everything that Jessica and Ray wrote on their blog

  4. Don't we beer bloggers like to poke a hornet's occasionally? Perhaps this was an uncharacteristic loss of nerve by B&B.

  5. @Paul - I agree that WhatPub is a major achievement, as was Progressive Beer Duty.

    I've blogged about WhatPub before, and a major issue is that it doesn't differentiate between pubs in terms of quality, and it gives no opportunity for user feedback. Obviously the authors don't want to antagonise licensees, so everything is a bit bland and anodyne.

    I remember once deliberately singling out an externally attractive pub, only to find it was awful - although I'm sure one group of customers found it fine.

  6. B&B said "we're delicate flowers -- get a bit stressed when people have the knives out, which they would have done three comments in."

    I'm sure they could take it ;-)

    For various reasons, a lot of the dedicated craft enthusiasts don't tend to come here, so we all seem to be largely agreeing with each other.

  7. Martin, Cambridge30 April 2015 at 07:25

    What Pub would only succeede the Beer Guide for me if it showed beer quality ratings as well as taking them.

    At the moment What Pub is an invaluable supplement to the Beer Guide in real ale deserts, has a good map function for those of us who can only navigate by pubs, and hopefully is collecting more evidence on quality than branches can alone.

  8. I resigned from CAMRA when they supported the smoking ban. They went along with the (surprisingly common) idea that the government should intervene to impose the supposed tastes of the majority, on the minority. In that case CAMRA members should all be forced to drink Carling.

    (Having said that, if I cast my mind back to pre-Ban times, few people had a problem, ventilation was improving, and nonsmoking areas or rooms were often empty. I reckon the Ban was more about a fanatical minority imposing its will on a more laissez-faire majority. Either way, I think CAMRA were, and as far as I know still are, on the wrong side of an important issue. If they can't see how much damage the Ban has done to pubs, they are pretty useless).

  9. The greatest single achievement of CAMRA was in taking the socially disreputable act of a decent piss up and turning it into a middle class hobby for enthusiasts, simultaneously affording it respectability and ruining it all at the same time.

  10. Sod the smokers. It was nothing to do with imposing tastes but preventing people from having to put up with a selfish minority who saw it (still do) as their right to impose their stinking and deadly addiction onto others. Their 'freedom' to do something without state interference is someone else's freedom to go about their life without having to breathe smoke. It was always going to happen and I don't blame the ban for the pub trade going belly-up.

  11. Wow, 'electricpics', you have opened my eyes with your thoughtful, fair-minded, and original comment . . .

    Seriously, it's pointless trying to reason with the likes of you, but for anyone who is more 'on the fence':

    (1) Talking about 'rights' gets us nowhere. There is no 'right to smoke' - smokers smoked in pubs because we were specifically permitted to, because it had been part of pub culture for hundreds of years, and because (I insist) most people didn't mind so long as there was decent ventilation. It's the antismoking fanatics who've caused the problem, or at least pushed it to its current levels of intolerance and paranoia. And smokers have, to my mind, rather too meekly complied with every rule and regulation and ban (not to mention insult) that's been thrown at us. It's like we are are on the ground, beaten and bloodied, but people like 'electricpics' keep coming up to put the boot in one more time.

    (2) I have no right to smoke, but who has the right to stop me? I'm 'polluting your air'? Who says it's yours? The only rights involved here are property rights. Who owns the air in the pub? The publican. Not you and not the government.

    (3) Why do some people profess to hate 'filthy stinking' smoking and smokers so much, that they won't even tolerate us smoking in a separate room or separate establishment, which they will never go into? Or do you think smoking should be banned in every part of every pub in the country just in case you might go into one of them some day? And you're calling US selfish?

    (4) Anyone with an open mind who does a little bit of research will tell you that 'secondhand smoke' is COMPLETE BOLLOCKS. Yes I know that's not what the BMA or the WHO says, but I promise you - the Emperor has no clothes. At least try to hang on to a little bit of healthy skepticism in the face of so much relentless fear-mongering.

  12. Hook, line and sinker. My only surprise is that it took so long.

    @anon I'm assuming you've missed the irony in 'Seriously, it's pointless trying to reason with the likes of you' given that your rant doesn't allow much in the way of discussion. Or in other words, only your opinion counts?


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