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 written more about MUP than any other alcohol issue. How can CAMRA members be so blind? The Temperance lobby agenda isn't an a la carte menu from which u choose the measures u like & reject the ones u dislike, it comes as a package. Utterly stupid.— Paul Chase (@PaulRChase) April 7, 2019
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?