All or nothing

A quick note on CAMRA’s “Revitalisation” project.

The changes recommended by the Executive, following three rounds of membership consultation, are currently being put to the membership. What this means in practice is a change to CAMRA’s Articles of Association, detailing what CAMRA is actually for.

Here’s the current Article 2:

2. The objects for which CAMRA is established are:

  1. To protect the interests of all those who wish to drink real ale;
  2. To campaign for an improvement in the quality and variety of British real ale;
  3. To draw to the attention of Members and the general public those places where real ale can be found;
  4. To promote and foster activities concerned with the consumption of real ale;
  5. To campaign for the retention and reinstatement of the facilities of the traditional British pub including the public bar;
  6. To ensure in every manner possible that producers and retailers of beer act in the best interests of the customer;
  7. To ensure that the knowledge and expertise of brewing real ale is kept alive;
  8. To improve the standards in all premises licensed to sell alcohol in the United Kingdom;
  9. To publish and issue to Members magazines or newsletters;
  10. To publish or sponsor the publication of books, articles, magazines, photographs, films, radio, television programmes and internet content or any similar material connected in any way with the items mentioned above, and to market them and otherwise assist in the collection and dissemination of information.

And here’s the proposed replacement list:

The objects are:

  1. To secure the long term future of real ale, real cider and real perry by increasing their quality, availability and popularity
  2. To promote and protect pubs and clubs as social centres as part of the UK’s cultural heritage
  3. To increase recognition of the benefits of responsible, moderate social drinking
  4. To play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type
  5. To act as the voice and represent the interests of all pub goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers
  6. To ensure, where possible, that producers and retailers of beer, cider and perry act in the best interests of the customer.

(Proposals from the Revitalisation Decision Web site.)

There are three types of change here. Firstly, out of the ten ‘objects’ (I think I’ll refer to them as ‘objectives’ from now on), five have been dropped without replacement:

  • To draw to the attention of Members and the general public those places where real ale can be found;
  • To promote and foster activities concerned with the consumption of real ale;
  • To improve the standards in all premises licensed to sell alcohol in the United Kingdom;
  • To publish and issue to Members magazines or newsletters;
  • To publish or sponsor the publication of books, articles, magazines, photographs, films, radio, television programmes and internet content or any similar material connected in any way with the items mentioned above, and to market them and otherwise assist in the collection and dissemination of information.

So, out go the Good Beer Guide objective, the What’s Brewing/BEER objective, the CAMRA Books objective and the GBBF objective. I appreciate that all of these are currently a substantial drain on CAMRA resources, but I’m dismayed to see the in-principle objectives simply disappear: are these not things that CAMRA ought to find some way of doing? The fifth objective that’s been dropped is the one about improving standards in licensed premises (in general; no reference to real ale). I’m not sure how much of that CAMRA does at the moment, but it seems like a good idea; again, I’m not crazy about losing it without good reason.

Secondly, there’s one entirely new objective:

  • To increase recognition of the benefits of responsible, moderate social drinking

No quarrel with that here, although it could be argued that it doesn’t go far enough – it might have been good to come right out and specify that we’re talking about health benefits. But that’s a minor nitpick, and overall I wouldn’t have any trouble voting for this one. (Although the question of voting is more complicated than it might seem; more on this later.)

That leaves five ‘old’ objectives which can be matched up with objectives on the ‘new’ list – and here, of course, there have been some changes.

First,

  • To campaign for an improvement in the quality and variety of British real ale;

is now

  • To secure the long term future of real ale, real cider and real perry by increasing their quality, availability and popularity

There’s not a lot wrong with that – unless, of course, you feel that real cider and perry are different enough from real ale, and have enough of an enthusiastic constituency of their own, to merit being floated off from CAMRA altogether. But perhaps that’s for another Consultation.

Secondly,

  • To campaign for the retention and reinstatement of the facilities of the traditional British pub including the public bar;

is now

  • To promote and protect pubs and clubs as social centres as part of the UK’s cultural heritage

The two ‘as’ clauses in a row are a bit inelegant, but otherwise this seems fair enough. I’m not quite sure what that specific reference to ‘the public bar’ in the old objectives was meant to achieve, but it’s fair to say that its moment as a pressing issue (if not its moment as a phenomenon) has gone.

Thirdly, the conservationist-sounding

  • To ensure that the knowledge and expertise of brewing real ale is kept alive;

is still just about visible within the much broader

  • To play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type

Perhaps the conservationist approach to beer is old hat; perhaps the battle to stop real ale dying out altogether is one that’s been won; perhaps that much broader terrain – provision of information to people interested in beer of any type – is the new world for CAMRA to conquer. I wonder.

Fourthly,

  • To protect the interests of all those who wish to drink real ale

is now

  • To act as the voice and represent the interests of all pub goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers

That’s a great deal broader, and I wonder whether it’s something that CAMRA can really hope to achieve. It may address the ‘craft’ elephant in the room, but the other big background issue – declining levels of volunteering and activism – is surely exacerbated by giving existing activists such an expanded brief.

The last modified objective,

  • To ensure in every manner possible that producers and retailers of beer act in the best interests of the customer;

hasn’t changed that much; it’s now

  • To ensure, where possible, that producers and retailers of beer, cider and perry act in the best interests of the customer.

‘Where possible’ sounds a bit weaker than ‘in every manner possible’ – implying that in some situations it won’t be possible at all – and there’s the cider issue. But this one, again, broadly seems fair enough.

Put it all together, and what you’ve got is an organisation turning away from real ale – and from specific activities it’s currently carrying out, associated with real ale – in favour of a much broader and less prescriptive remit, albeit that some references to real ale survive in among the references to ‘beer’ tout court. I wonder how an organisation with a growing activist deficit is going to find the resources for this new, longer task list. Perhaps the new ‘objects’ will be shiny enough to attract a new wave of members and encourage the existing armchair membership to get active. Alternatively, perhaps they’re written vaguely enough to cover a continuing decline in grassroots membership activity; CAMRA in the longer term could become less a campaign, more a head office sustained by a largely passive, dues-paying membership – think Oxfam or the Consumers’ Association (the charitable organisation behind Which? magazine).

I’m not hopeful about the first of these possibilities, and I’m not entirely convinced the Exec is either. Where I think I do differ with the Exec is that I’m not happy about the second possibility. In the end I only voted in favour of the ‘moderate drinking’ and ‘best interests of the customer’ objectives. But that in itself points to a problem with the way the new ‘objects’ have been put to the membership. The changes are being put forward as a series of ‘Special Resolutions’, each of which needs to get a 75% Yes vote in order to pass. One resolution, in effect, deletes the old objectives; the next six each put forward one of the new objectives. There’s an obvious danger here, or rather two dangers. What if the ‘deletion’ resolution gets the magic 75%, but only one or two of the new objectives reach that level? CAMRA could end up as an organisation whose sole objective was the provision of education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type. Conversely, what if some – or all – of the new objectives pass, but the ‘deletion’ resolution doesn’t? All ten of the old objectives would remain in place, alongside whichever new objectives were passed – CAMRA could end up officially committed both to the narrow (‘real ale’) objectives and to the broader ones (cider, beer in general, pub-goers in general). (If the second of these does happen, incidentally, I’m one of the people you can blame; I voted against the ‘deletion’ resolution.)

One more list. All in all, it looks as if the CAMRA Executive

  • does want to make cider and perry’s place in the campaign official;
  • doesn’t want to be tied down to running festivals, publishing books and all that stuff;
  • does want to do something to square the ‘craft’ circle, but
  • doesn’t really know how (which is fair enough; neither does anyone else); and
  • does want to keep the Campaign relevant to new generations of drinkers, but
  • doesn’t want to make the Campaign’s survival depend on a revival of grass-roots activism.

I disagree, more or less strongly, with most of this agenda (if this is the agenda) – which is why I’ve mostly voted No. But I guess it’s a bit late in the proceedings for a suggestion like “How about just campaigning for real ale?”.

 

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4 Comments

  1. Dominic Pinto
    Posted 18 March, 2018 at 2:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Given that some of the critique is that the list of objectives are shorter, and less prescriptive, it points to the Campaign being able to be SMART-er, reflect the selective pursuit (by branches if noone else), provide a route to modernising away from a rather hidebound and traditional set-up. But turning away from real ale? Becoming a centralised professional lobby?

    Forgive me for being optimistic but in Oxfam, for example, some 23,000 people volunteer in their UK shops. One friend devotes every Saturday to this, and in my local Oxfam shop there’s a succession of long-term volunteers who largely run the shop 6 days a week. Spin-offs supported by Oxfam (they were one of the founders, and there’s a considerable overlap between the two) incude the Fairtrade Foundation – with a small central employed team that has a large volunteer effort both in the central office and critically across the whole country, locally. The Consumers’ Association is on a very different scale, with over 1.7M members and supporters (and I am a member, as well as an active supporter and subscriber to Which? magazine). There are now over 1M campaign supporters who took 3.8M campaign actions in 2016/17. These included over 1.5M petition signatures, plus comments, taking part in polls, emailing targets. The community website Which? Conversation had 36,000 comments and 76,000 poll votes made by consumers, Which? members and campaign.

    So the idea that these corporate-like entities with (bloated?) head offices with a passive income generating membership, commercial income generating arms, and declining local activity is really very far from the reality you suggest.

    But it is worth contrasting the two sets of objectives – and don’t overlook as you appear to have done that there are changes also to Articles 3 and 4. The last by the way includes powers to publish pretty well anything in support of the Article 2 objectives, branches and members. Far from obliging CAMRA to publish specific titles, or run specific beer festivals, the current objectives are quiet. It perhaps should be obvious, with What?ub, the Good Beer Guide app, and other on-line and digital channels, and the decline in print sales, but maybe not, that there will be eventually a generation of members and supporters, and wider, that will be largely if not wholly on-line one way or another. There may well be a continuing niche for print publications, but the proposed changes do not preclude them, or looking at other means and channels.

    In setting out more succinct objects the proposed new Articles start fairly crucially, surely, with securing the long term future of first real ale, and also real cider and real perry, by increasing their quality. availability and popularity.

    Far from throwing away principles that one statement seems to be far stronger than the existing Articles put together, some of which hark back to a long-past and even deferential era – talking about protecting interests, drawing attention to where real ale may be found, campaigning for the public bar among other features …

    That is then supported by clear statements that highlight the importance of pubs and clubs, the benefits of responsible drinking, information, education, training, and the CAMRA’s role as the drinkers and pub-goers consumer champion. Lastly but by no means least there is the role of championing the consumers’ interests v. the producers and the retailers.

    It isn’t just CAMRA representing its members, it is the pursuit of objectives that are entirely in the interests of members and the interests all of these consumers. Much like the Consumers’ Association that champions the interests of their members AND that of the whole community when it comes to services and products.

    Shorter, succinct and clear – and rather less than more ambiguous than the present list of aspirations, some of which it is unclear how they could ever be seriously achieved let alone if they’ve ever been pursued.

    The proposed wording might be improved, but they are clear as to reflecting the intent of the National Executive and the recommendations they have, broadly, endorsed and put forward.

    The mechanics and channels, and policies, to achieve these are already in train, in part at least. Support and promotion of cider and perry, as others have pointed out, are a case in point. What?ub is clearly already a means to achieving some of these aims.

    Given that no babies have been harmed nor thrown out with the bath water, what remains of the case against the Special Resolutions? Well, what major matters of principle does it really hinge on?

    Despite what has been put forward on threads on CAMRA’s Discourse, aired extensively at regional, branch and other meetings, and having come out of a fairly lengthy and concerted series of presentation, discussion and consultation, with members and others with an interest and stake, much appears to be the worst fears that some, perhaps many but that’s not knowable, read into what underlies the real aims of the Campaign’s leadership or what they believe is threatened by what they see is implicit or explicit changes in policy.

    The main question put in this piece Could CAMRA start supporting lagers? | Hertfordshire Business Awards 20176 seems to boil down to is how can you tell the difference between good and bad beer in a new era, accepting that some of the new ones are (reasonably) good … and that we’d be on the cusp of going back to the bad old days of Red Barrel, and the decline of cask conditioned ale.

    The last if nothing else reinforces the need for a well-resourced and supported pub and drinkers champion … for it is the continuing long-term decline of all draught beers, even if cask ale is increasing its market share, and the continuing decimation of pubs and clubs, which are the clear and present dangers whomsoever they stem from.

    One way or another, it will be a mixture of national political work and lobbying on taxation (on business rates, beer duty, VAT), as part of an opportunity of a lifetime, provided by leaving the EU, to radically restructure the whole system; local campaigning for pro-pub etc planning policies – supported by national and regional expertise; and in the face of a continuing loss of pubs across the whole country – over 900 in the last calendar year alone.

  2. Posted 20 March, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Good stuff Phil. I’ve used a bit of it on my own blog.

  3. Sheffield Hatter
    Posted 20 March, 2018 at 10:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Continuing the discussion which got diverted onto Tandleman’s blog (http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/to-be-or-not-to-be.html) – I said: It seems to me that if you call yourself the Campaign for Real Ale you have to campaign for real ale.

    You said: I think CAMRA should do just that – campaign for real ale – and forget about broader ambitions to be the voice of “the beer drinker” or “the pubgoer”. So much of the debate has been between the rival propositions of
    “we should campaign for good beer, which exclusively means real ale”
    and “we should campaign for good beer, which doesn’t necessarily mean real ale”. Whereas I think we should campaign for real ale, because it’s one particular form of good beer that’s worth campaigning for – never mind what else might be out there.

    This is exactly where I’m at. It’s about honesty and integrity. If you start thinking “is the campaign going to collapse if we stop issuing Wetherspoons vouchers” or “should we say that some of this new craft stuff is OK because that’s what young people seem to like and that will get them involved in our campaign” – well, if you start thinking that way you are lost. If we’re a campaign for real ale, we should campaign for real ale.

    To the barricades!

    Oops, sorry. Cast your votes against the resolutions.

  4. Posted 21 March, 2018 at 12:04 am | Permalink | Reply

    Phil,

    Comprehensive piece, but not very clear where you have drawn some conclusions from.

    Starting with:
    >So, out go the Good Beer Guide objective, the What’s Brewing/BEER objective, the CAMRA Books objective and the GBBF objective.

    It’s a bit of a leap to equate “To draw to the attention of Members and the general public those places where real ale can be found;” to “The Good Beer Guide objective” – the GBG may have been a key part of this in the past, but it has been superseded by WhatPub as the primary tool for promoting pubs.
    The old objective is rather outdated, its intent will be perfectly adequately covered in the more succinct “To promote and protect pubs and clubs as social centres as part of the UK’s cultural heritage”

    What you deem “the CAMRA Books objective ” has also not been thrown out – books and related items are published to provide information and education so the objective’s intent it is now packaged up in “To play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type”.

    By process of elimination, I believe you have deemed “To improve the standards in all premises licensed to sell alcohol in the United Kingdom;” as “the GBBF objective”. I totally fail to understand why? I would have thought that the objective was again originally linked into the GBG which sought to improve standards by example?
    Again, the current objective is rather outdated, presumption and would argue neither realistic or achievable. improving the quality of real ale is included in “To secure the long term future of real ale, real cider and real perry by increasing their quality, availability and popularity”

    Granted that the “What’s Brewing/BEER objective” is proposed to be removed, but as has been argued elsewhere, does defining a membership benefit really have a place in the articles of association? The primary purpose of What’s Brewing and Beer are to educate and inform the membership, and is therefore also covered by “To play a leading role in the provision of information, education and training to all those with an interest in beer, cider and perry of any type”.

    So of where you have suggested “in-principle objectives simply disappear”, the reality is that they have simply been included in more wide ranging objectives – nobody has suggested that CAMRA will stop doing books, the GBG, What’s Brewing, GBBF etc.

    Moving on, to the proposed:
    “To act as the voice and represent the interests of all pub goers and beer, cider and perry drinkers”
    you “wonder whether it’s something that CAMRA can really hope to achieve”.

    Well it is something that CAMRA already hopes to achieve – it’s “super complainant” status with the Office Of Fair Trading (or whatever it’s called these days) is a result of it being viewed as a representative of consumers in this area. Therefore I fail to see how there can be a problem with this objective.

    In other areas you seem to conclude that proposed objectives “broadly seem fair enough” or similar. So therefore I’m confused why you have voted against objectives that you acknowledge are “fair enough”?

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