Sunday, 7 April 2019

Supping with the devil

It was disappointing, to say the least, that, earlier today, a motion supporting minimum alcohol pricing was passed at CAMRA’s National Conference in Dundee. A similar policy had been struck down a few years ago following a motion proposed by Peter Alexander aka Tandleman, who argued that it represented “being on the wrong side of the debate”. However, it has now risen again from the dead.

I have set out the case against this in several magazine columns over the years, in April 2012, April 2013 and May last year, so I don’t propose to reiterate the arguments in detail. It’s fundamentally objectionable as it represents “prohibition by price”. It won’t do anything to boost the pub trade, and won’t give anyone a single extra penny to spend in pubs. There is also the distinct possibility that any increase over the current Scottish level of 50p per unit will start to hit the cheaper end of the pub trade. And this stance comes across as distinctly hypocritical when CAMRA is handing out vouchers for 50p off a pint in Wetherspoon’s which could easily take the price of stronger beers below the Scottish minimum.

As with the support given by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, this comes across as a nihilistic, dog-in-the-manger lashing out at parts of the drinks trade CAMRA doesn’t particularly approve of. But, as alcohol industry commentator Paul Chase points out here, you can’t pick and choose from the anti-drink agenda.

The anti-drink lobby represents an existential threat to everything CAMRA holds dear. They only claim to support pubs over off-trade drinking because it suits their purposes at a particular time. By trying to cherry-pick from their policy proposals, CAMRA are allowing themselves to become their useful idiots. As Churchill famously said “an appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”.

I’ve been a member of CAMRA for thirty-eight years, for most of that period as a Life Member. I’ve done thousands of hours of unpaid work for it. When I took up Life Membership, at a bargain price available at the time, a friend made the point that he wouldn’t do so, as it removed the potential sanction of resigning, if the organisation took a policy stance he strongly disagreed with. To jack it in would clearly be an exercise in cutting off my nose to spite my face, and ironically would actually save CAMRA money. But if I was an annual member, I’d certainly think long and hard about whether it was worth renewing, and it makes me much less inclined to lift a finger to help the organisation except out of loyalty to friends.

One consolation is that, in practice, CAMRA is unlikely to actually do very much to pursue such a policy and, judging by the reaction on Twitter, many local branches will be disinclined to lift a finger. It’s also worth noting that the motion was passed by 264 to 148, a total of 412 votes. That’s less than a quarter of one percent of CAMRA’s total membership. Is it really acceptable in this wired and connected age for such important policy decisions to be taken by such a tiny and unrepresentative group?

27 comments:

  1. Not many times when I agree with you but this is one.

    Sadly those who spoke against the motion, including our mutual friend Tandy, did so without the conviction or passion needed while the proposers repeatedly cited that they had been extolled to take action against the supermarkets by their local licencees and won the hall.

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    1. The supermarkets are convenient scapegoats, but in reality they only follow trends, they don't create them out of thin air. You can't preserve the society of the 1970s in aspic.

      Plus, of course, they actually benefit from minimum pricing, as it in effect represents a state-sponsored price-fixing ring. Yes, they will lose some volume to convenience stores, but just imagine how much fatter their alcohol margins are now they no longer have to do all that deep discounting.

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  2. I live in Scotland where this 50p per unit rule applies. At the moment the retailers take the price increase. £15 litre of 40% whisky now costs £20, minimum. For myself it has increased my consumption of malts. Same thing goes for fine or exotic (true meaning) beer.
    But once the government realises that the rich are drinking as much fine booze as they ever did and also that they are missing out on the increased price they will whack on a tax increase "for your own good".
    So we will be back where we were and much like Eire or Scandinavian countries. Miserable.
    With more people brewing and distilling their own.

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    1. At the moment alcohol duty is not devolved to the Scottish Government so it can't use this weapon. If it's ever devolved or Scotland becomes independent, they'll be in there like a shot, as Doonhamer says, "for our own good." (See wise words of C S Lewis in the sidebar)

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  3. I let my CAMRA membership lapse when I moved to a part of Scotland where there is virtually no real ale. After seeing this, I won't be re-joining until this ludicrous policy is reversed.

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  4. Dick Puddlecote7 April 2019 at 19:54

    Don't forget that the Sheffield University report on which Scotland's legislation relies and on which English temperance campaigners are basing their lobbying doesn't plan to restrict minimum pricing to retail outlets, it specifically states that a minimum price in pubs as well would be the best approach. CAMRA have just legitimised public health sticking their nose into pub pricing mechanisms, it is beyond dumb.

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  5. I am an annual member, as with a large mortgage and a recently arrived child, I couldn’t afford to take advantage of life membership, at the time it was first offered.

    CAMRA’s support for Minimum Unit Pricing, whilst daft, isn’t an issue which would see me tearing up my membership card, but I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the organisation in general.

    It is mainly friendship which keeps me as a CAMRA member, although I’ve thought long and hard in recent years as to whether I want this to continue. It was only inertia, on my part, at the end of last year which saw my membership renewing automatically. If I decide this year that after 40+ years, I no longer wish to remain a member, I will make sure to cancel the Direct Debit well in advance.

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  6. CAMRA is basically a bunch of puritans who have codified a form of drink that is acceptable and all other forms of drink are not. It's what most of the activists are. Those that turn up and volunteer. Such types will always have the loudest voice.

    On a positive note it is a wholly ineffective campaign achieving little but keeping its members busy. So there's that.

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  7. It's about time we tooking campaiging for real ale seriously. That means banning the supermarkets, banning lager, banning wine and banning everything that isn't drinking real ale down the pub.

    CAMRA needs to take its gloves off and come out fighting for real ale.

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  8. For too long CAMRA has been attracting Tory Boys, craft beer keg drinkers & those in favour of business.

    Minimum pricing should only be applied to the impure keg muck. Not the cask beer. Then purge all the keg drinkers from the ranks and let's get back to real ale!

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  9. It's a daft policy and discriminates against poor people who like to have a couple of drinks. Shouldn't policy be voted on by all members by a postal ballot or some such?

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  10. "Sadly those who spoke against the motion, including our mutual friend Tandy, did so without the conviction or passion needed "

    Well I did my best, I wheeled out the usual arguments, rubbished what I could of his arguments, but the debate was too short and at the wrong time of day. And it is much more difficult to oppose than to move. When you move a motion you know you have a right of reply to win the day and also to raise your game. Then you can judge it better. Also it was first thing on a Sunday morning. Who has passion then? Not the mover, so it wasn't that, not even my mate Steve Bury who backed me up. It was won by our ex Chairman Colin Valentine, by the simple phrase "This is an idea whose time has come".

    The debate needed to be longer and it needed others to stand up and be counted.

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    1. "This is an idea whose time has come"

      Yes, a classic non sequitur.

      My favorite is "If it ([place any ban/law here]) saves even just one life then it must be worth it"

      This would be a great argument for the abolition of recreational and non-recreational sex.

      It does not surprise me that CAMRA is in favour of this, as this is the same organisation that predicted that the smoking ban would attract 7,000,000 new customers a year. In reality all it attracted was middle aged people who were using the already available non-smoking areas into other parts of the pub or attracted them away from the already available non-smoking restaurants IMHO.

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    2. Very true Fredrik. The smoking ban drove smokers away and decimated the pub industry. The support for the smoking ban in the letters i read constantly in Whats Brewing from the anti smoking bigots sickened me and drove me away from CAMRA.

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    3. Colin was for it ? thats disappointing to hear. Tendrings branch area,is a corner of Essex that hovers between extreme poverty and a retirement destination for London working class people bored of the confines of the city, it encompasses the likes of Jaywick, one of Englands most deprived & poorest areas & Frinton where famously more than half the population are above retirement age and its 19th century foundings outlawed pubs completely till the early 21st century when Shepherd Neame opened one inside the gates.

      None of these people are going to pop up at the local Dog & Duck for a pint to sup with the landlord and a have a chat because CAMRA have made supermarket beer more expensive for them, they either simply cant afford to drink beer anyway or just arent interested, it wont remotely solve any problems for Tendring pubs, it wont remotely solve any problems for pubs in the rest of the country.

      I get why people think supermarkets disrupt pubs trade, but no-one ever suggests restaurant trade is down because supermarkets sell food to eat. Minimum unit pricing is not the answer to problems facing pubs and it is another tax and it will inevitably be used to apply to them as well, as governments of all denominations have never turned down the opportunity to raise the so called sin taxes.

      Greene Kings business arm are in favour of MUP,which says it all in my opinion.

      I would have voted against it in Dundee had I attended,

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    4. Surely a true sign of bigotry is a refusal to see another point of view?

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    5. Surely bigotry is being intolerant of other people doing things you don't personally like.

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    6. Stono, I made these points, though obviously not forcefully enough. I should have slagged off their arguments about local landlords, but after laying out the general objections hoped that the rest would come out in debate. It didn't as it was cut short. I should have raised a point of order to coninue the debate maybe?

      Still, what's done is done.

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    7. When my can of Bud Light goes up 10p I'll remember it was the TAND that fought to prevent it. TAND is the real hero here.

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    8. Tandleman to be fair I suspect regardless of how well the points against were made,or who else could have made them to continue the debate longer, simply to have someone with Colin's stature as ex chairman in the organisation stand up for the motion,and I assume meant most of the current NE fell in line as for it as well, probably swayed enough of the members who were unsure how to vote, to go along with it.

      and its really difficult to get people to see or convince them supermarkets arent competing for the same custom, weve seen nearly the same argument develop last week with off license craft beer shops worrying about craft brewers beers ending up on supermarket shelves, and coming up with all kinds of weird and wacky reasons why it impacts their business,so they are probably in favour of MUP too now.

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    9. The Stafford Mudgie11 April 2019 at 08:08

      Tandleman,
      At the wrong time of day – Yes.
      It is much more difficult to oppose than to move – Yes.
      It was won by our ex Chairman Colin Valentine, by the simple phrase "This is an idea whose time has come" – Possibly.
      The debate needed to be longer – I very much doubt if longer than 28 minutes would have given a different outcome. Early on I pointed out that the proposer of the motion says it’s too early to know the effect of Minimum Unit Pricing in Scotland, that therefore it’s too early to guess the effect it might have in England and so I proposed under Standing Order 3.1a that conference proceeds to next business but I immediately sensed that I had little support

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    10. The thinking behind this on CAMRA's part is very muddled. There's no conceivable mechanism by which it could drive customers back into pubs, and of course the reasons for the long-term shift from on- to off-trade consumption go way beyond price alone.

      It just seems to be an attempt to do down parts of the drinks trade that CAMRA disapproves of, and even by that yardstick it doesn't work. Indeed, as I've said on Twitter, in fact it's a boost for the off-trade, especially the convenience store sector, as it fattens their margins on alcohol sales.

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    11. And, as we all know, alcoholic drinks are not a particularly price-elastic commodity.

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    12. I didn't realise it was 28 minutes. How time flies.

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    13. The Stafford Mudgie11 April 2019 at 21:53

      Tandleman,
      Yes, 10.21am to 10.49am.
      We might have known it was the only really significant motion of the eleven known about in advance but maybe some of us wrongly assumed that common sense would prevail or that others would be well prepared to forcibly argue that pubs closing is not because of supermarkets but because of big pubcos charging £50,000 a year for the lease and £110 for each firkin.

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    14. The Stafford Mudgie14 April 2019 at 08:37

      Tandleman,
      And I will add that the far fewer motions this year suggests that many of those that have always had a keen interest in CAMRA are no longer members or no longer active and it we therefore did not have the proper in depth debate of the past.

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  11. CAMRA is disdainfully regarded by many in the drinks trade to be a group of interfering amateur busybodies and ridiculous motions like this only serve to reinforce that view.

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