Monday, 26 March 2012

Vision and Courage Required

This blog post is unashamedly about CAMRA.

My What's Brewing arrived on Friday. That's the newspaper of the Campaign for Real Ale. CAMRA to you and me. It was a good issue in my view and there was one article, by Ian Fozard, that caught my eye particularly. Ian has form at CAMRA AGMs - in a good way - and has a lot of both campaigning experience. As well as being a pub chain owner, he is now a brewery owner - he owns Roosters of Harrogate, so he has a foot in more than one camp. His article is wide ranging and sensible in the main. He calls for an awareness campaign of the difficulties of running pubs, a closer working relationship with organisations where we have common cause and a more relaxed attitude to craft beer. (Don't get too excited about the last one though, he doesn't think much of it and prefers just to let the market decide. But tellingly he isn't remotely agin it.)

One phrase was striking though. Ian said "The National Executive" has a responsibility to redefine CAMRA's role". He remarks "Imagine if in 40 years time we're still campaigning for real ale as currently defined and deriding other beer styles." Indeed. That's quite a thought. Everything moves on and it is the role of leadership to ensure that the Campaign is capable of sustaining itself into the future. Some of what Ian says is being done though through the Fit for Purpose Review, which I had a hand in. Ian will be pleased to note that closer working with other beery organisations is firmly embedded in that piece of work and has already started I believe. The Fit for Purpose Review was an attempt to position CAMRA for the future and was a jigsaw piece in making CAMRA think more clearly about not only what we are doing, but what we should be doing in the future and how we should do it. I think that's still a work in progress, but it is a start.  Holding the NE to account for progressing it will be key in the year to come.

I was pleased too, to read in WB  a couple of progressive motions to the AGM from two of our more aware NE members. Motions 15 and 16 both refer to craft keg beer and are welcome, but whether they will pass muster at the AGM is open to question. I won't be there sadly, as Torquay just doesn't fit in with my plans, but I regard these two motions, particularly motion 15, as a stepping stone to next year, pass or fail. I will be there next year and there will be more motions. I have a year to think and plan, as I believe we are approaching a critical period in CAMRA's relevance and that certain nettles must be grasped.

It was pleasing too to note that at last we have some competition for NE places and there may well be more in the future and that the Chairman (Colin Valentine)identifies the Anti Alcohol Lobby - he rightly refers to them as "prohibitionists or abolitionists" - as a body that must be fought vigorously. So positive things, but we must have a leadership with the courage and vision to make the changes that will mean that CAMRA retains its undoubted relevance. CAMRA and that means the NE particularly, must have the courage to swim against the prohibitionist tide, to recognise industry change and to make CAMRA clear sighted in playing a leading part as both a campaigning and lobbying force in UK brewing. So, to those members reading this and going to Torquay, support progressive motions, listen carefully to the update on the Fit for Purpose Review and help shape CAMRA for the future not the past.

Now to another point. Remember the group that CAMRA set up to look at craft beer? I was a member and have news on that too, but you'll have to wait until later this week for it, as this background piece needed writing first. I doubt that you'll be impressed by the outcome though. 

 I wasn't.

Next year we are in Norwich, a proper beery city and a train an hour from Manchester.  And what is that in the palm tree?

Motion 15:
This Conference believes that CAMRA policy should recognise that “Craft Beer” is beer with a distinctive flavour brewed by artisans. As a consequence, most real ales are craft beers but not all craft beers are real ale and CAMRA’s communication should reflect this.
Christine Cryne
Keith Spencer

Motion 16:

This Conference believes that real ale is the indigenous beer style of the UK and notes that CAMRA will continue to concentrate its beer festivals on this beer style. Conference also recognises that there are some perfectly drinkable craft beers that are not real ale, and where CAMRA is required to provide a full bar, consideration will be given to selling keg craft beers as opposed to other keg beers.
Christine Cryne
Keith Spencer


beersiveknown said...

I was going to blog about this when I got my electronic copy, but wasn't sure whetehr we could publish the motions or not. Plus you've phrased it more eloquently than I could have hoped.

I think it may be a puffin in the tree...

Cooking Lager said...

I take it fighting the prohibitionists involves CAMRAs full support for wealth, class & income based prohibition in the form of minimum pricing?

Tandleman said...


They are the property of CAMRA, but as they are published widely, hardly a secret.


I have already written to the Chairman asking who made this policy. I don't support it.

Matt said...

I read the motions on "craft keg" with a sense of amusement.

CAMRA exists to promote cask beer. That's it. Not "good beer", cask beer (even though those two aren't necessarily synonyms). It'd be like me pitching up to the RSPB AGM and demanding to know why they are ignoring otters or spiders and denouncing them as stick in the muds were they declined to add these fascinating creatures to their list.

As has been pointed out many times, CAMRA isn't stopping anyone setting up a society to promote "craft keg". And I've put that in inverted commas because I've yet to see a satisfactory defintion. Is it keg beer from a small brewery, unfiltered, unpasteurised, brewed without adjuncts or just keg beer that tastes better than Fosters and Carling?

Tandleman said...

I think we in CAMRA can recognise that other good beer exists without compromising our commitment to real ale. I would not support anything that didn't put cask conditioned real ale first.

My next post may help you in seeing where I and some others are coming from. It doesn't have to be an either or thing.

John West said...

An interesting and balanced article and I look forward to the trailed follow-up.

I singularly failed to put fingers-to-keyboard for a piece in WB on the AGM situation for members who do not wish to cough up for a weekend away to participate in strategic decision making or board elections.

I favour branch delegates for policy and an online ballot for national exec elections. I know you are against the delegate notion but you seemed to agree there is something of a democratic deficit in the current arrangements. I'd be interested to know what you think might be done to address it.

Being still (just about) a 20-something, I have a large number of pals who are CAMRA members in the same way they have a Tesco Clubcard or Boots Advantage Card. It makes sense if you go to festivals and like BEER magazine - and you nominally feel 'it's a good thing' to support drinkers' rights, but vanishingly few of them have any idea what goes on locally, or volunteer, or would have the foggiest about cask vs craft keg debates.

They think they've joined a 'decent beer' club. There are two approached to these members: a) 'more fool you' for joining our cask beer defence squad; b) how do we better serve these members who pay subs like everyone else?

It won't surprise you to learn I think a little more of the latter is required, even if - as I do - you believe CAMRA's No.1 focus should always be the promotion of well-kept cask beer.

Des de Moor said...

Matt: "It'd be like me pitching up to the RSPB AGM and demanding to know why they are ignoring otters or spiders". Or pitching up at the Real Ale Campaign AGM and, er, demanding to know why they are ignoring real cider and perry...

CAMRA does loads of stuff that's not directly to do with cask beer. When it suits, it pushes itself as the consumer champion on all beer issues and is recognised as such by the government. I'm more sympathetic to those people who say "the clue's in the name" if they're actively pushing to exclude all those other activities too. However most of them sensibly realise that would set the course for a much smaller organisation that they wouldn't feel so self important for being involved with.

JesusJohn -- you're absolutely spot on that most members see CAMRA as a "decent beer club" and my view, like yours, is that it needs to live up to that. But not sure a delegate conference is the way to do it -- speaking from experience of other organisations that use that structure, it's likely to make the minority of entrenched activists in branches even more influential as they're the ones who are likely to be delegated. Organisations that have succeeded in driving broader involvement particuarly with younger members have done so through a thorough overhaul of their governance, running members meetings in a completely different way and all kinds of other activities to reach out to members and embrace their opinions.

Barm said...

Carling has a "distinctive flavour". It tastes of sweetcorn because the focus groups have identified that as something Carling drinkers like about it. Who are we to say the people who brew Heineken or Tennent's Lager aren't artisans? That's arrogant to say the least.

John West said...

Des: 'Organisations that have succeeded in driving broader involvement particuarly with younger members have done so through a thorough overhaul of their governance, running members meetings in a completely different way and all kinds of other activities to reach out to members and embrace their opinions.'

I like the sound of that very much, but could you give some concrete proposals (even if back of a fag packet style), just so we can see what that means in practice?

I'm not wedded to a delegate system (it has all the problems you and Tandie say it has) but self-selecting AGM as currently set up seems to me cannot be better. In principle, anyone can rock up. But in practice...

It's long been said that CAMRA policy is one thing and the views of the average CAMRA activist can be quite another. It's true there's often more sense in local CAMRA magazines than the national view as represented in WB (this is, of course, just my opinion).

Would be interested if that view is shared by anyone else and how it might be addressed.

Cooking Lager said...

Love to hear what answer you get back, Tand.

Neville Grundy said...

Ian Fozard also pointed to the the Beer Orders that hastened to PubCos into existence. CAMRA at the time quoted the Tory government propaganda that all the pubs cast free by the Orders would become free houses. At the time I just couldn't see that happening, and it didn't. I don't claim to be a prophet, because I didn't anticipate what actually came about, but that's an example of policies accepted without considering all the possible outcomes.

Minimum pricing is another such policy. CAMRA agrees to this on the self-serving, but spurious, idea that putting up prices in supermarkets will encourage more people to go to pubs. I suggested months ago, a point reiterated recently by Curmudgeon, that if we do get minimum pricing, it will sooner or later end up on an escalator like beer tax and it eventually impact upon pubs. CAMRA seems blissfully unaware of this blindingly obvious pitfall.

Concerning the AGM, as a former trade unionist I've seen the system of branch delegations work very well. It would be more representative of the members, especially if the Branch had the right to mandate delegates how to vote (i.e. for, against or listen & decide), than the self-selecting rag tag & bobtail representation we have now.

Coxy said...

Its simple to me , leave CAMRA to cask conditioned beer else it just becomes far to difficult to define.There is plenty of room for a new lobby group based around good beer or craft beer ,and they may have members CAMRA do not, that can add to the good lobbying work CAMRA do against the things we all agree with like prohibition and the death of pubs.

Tandleman said...

Interesting points. I am not in favour of branch delegations at all. We aren't a trade union and while the system presently is imperfect, it is bureaucratic and we have enough of that elsewhere.

Coxy. It doesn't have to be one or the other. To quote JJ "CAMRA's No.1 focus should always be the promotion of well-kept cask beer." That doesn't mean we should pretend other ways don't exist.

Curmudgeon said...

The question maybe should be asked why, if CAMRA only campaigns for cask-conditioned beer, and ignores everything else, it should also campaign about issues such as beer duty and pub closures.

Incidentally, I have seen beer on sale in Spoons in the past few weeks that I could have got for less than 40p a unit with a CAMRA voucher, so the impact would, in a minimal way, be here now.

John West said...

Tandleman: 'the system presently is imperfect'

Agreed - perhaps we could have online voting for the national exec and see how that beds in before messing about too much with the AGM? I suspect online voting for the NE would open it up to fresh blood and that, in turn, would improve the tenor and content of debates, pushing them in a more progressive direction.

Of note re. Mudgie's comment, too - you were right to pick up on the unwritten subtext of what I meant when I said 'CAMRA's No.1 focus should always be the promotion of well-kept cask beer.' - i.e. that I do think there is room for priorities 2, 3 and 4.

Sid Boggle said...

Isn't that the Brewdog penguin in the tree?

Neville Grundy said...

Sorry, TM, saying that we are not a trade union as an argument against delegations really isn't an answer. They would certainly be more representative than the present system, and as a natural democrat, I like that idea. Individual members are answerable only to themselves, whereas a branch delegation would be accountable to their branch's members, both before they go and after they return with reports on what happened and how they voted on our behalf and why. At present the only way I can take part in CAMRA's democracy at the AGM is to go myself, which is costly and not always practical.

Tandleman said...

RedNev: OK. I can add costly to the bureaucratic I already mentioned. Who would pay for this? The members and it would not be cheap.

"They would certainly be more representative than the present system" is an assertion, not a fact. As you very well know it is open to all sorts of undemocratic behaviour and would likely put many people off. It would be a chore. Personal cost is a factor of course, but at least you are committed on a personal basis.

Curmudgeon said...

As various people have said, turning the AGM into a delegate conference would in practice tend to increase the hold of "old guard" activists, especially if delegate selection was done at local branch meetings.

I'd be inclined, as Jesusjohn says, to go initially for an all-postal NE election (OK, with an electronic option if it can be done securely) rather than the current clumsy opt-in system.

It would also be useful if the candidates for the NE did more to set out their own distinctive vision rather than just saying they were all in favour of campaigning more effectively for real ale and pubs.

The key is somehow getting democracy extended outside the formal branch structure.

Tandleman said...

The "vision thing" was sadly missing from the statements of all of them I'd say.

"Incidentally, I have seen beer on sale in Spoons in the past few weeks that I could have got for less than 40p a unit with a CAMRA voucher, so the impact would, in a minimal way, be here now."

How so? JDW don't allow the price to fall below £1 a pint. So it can't be, can it?

Curmudgeon said...

Wobbly Bob, 6.5%, on sale at £1.99, or £1.49 with voucher. OK, it's 40.4p per unit, but almost there. The current beer festival, where they're selling it for 10p less, includes a 6.5% Imperial Russian Stout, but I haven't actually seen that on sale.

John West said...

I agree with Curmudgeon - a membership organisation with over 120k paying subs ought to send out ballots by default to its members. Forcing members to apply is a cheek, really. Tom Stainer does a pretty good job reaching out to CAMRA members but I did genuinely LOL (to use web parlance) when he tweeted a link to 'get your CAMRA ballot' only to have to login to the CAMRA membership site where...there was an address to send an SAE. Ye gods! The 21st century has arrived.

I said this looked a bit daft, which started a debate about whether those who can't be bothered to fetch a stamp should have a vote. My point, as above, was we should get a ballot without having to ask.

Neville Grundy said...

On-line balloting would be cheap and enfranchise a lot more people, with a postal option for those whom it didn't suit.

Whatever AGM system is adopted, the present one needs changing because it is not as democratic as I believe it should be. Perhaps like the National Trust, members who don't attend the AGM could cast their votes on motions in advance and they are counted in the total.

Jeff Pickthall said...

How about a review of the fitness for purpose of name "The Good Beer Guide" now that there is a considerable amount of good beer that challenges CAMRA's definition of good beer as being exclusively real ale?

Rob Nicholson said...

>The National Executive" has a responsibility to redefine CAMRA's role".

Some fighting talk in there which is something CAMRA seriously needs and motion restricting the number of years one can serve on the NE is a nod in the same direction (fresh blood apply here).

I agree with others that the current motion system is not ideal (and I've said so on the CAMRA forums) but the AGM is not the end to tackle it at. We need a much more leadership driven NE & central committees who aren't afraid to push ideas forward, debate them all the time.

The motions should be used as a brake when things go wrong. We live in far too complex a word to distil some of those topics to an short debating period.

It's out of date and engenders reluctance to change.

Rob Nicholson said...

>"The Good Beer Guide"

The title is now also misleading and should probably be "The beer enthusiast's good beer guide" as there are many pubs that serve perfectly good beer that don't get in the guide.

But should sort all that out.

John Clarke said...

Oh please - spare us this nonsense about the name of the Good Beer Guide. When the GBG was launched back in 1974 "good beer" and "real ale" were pretty much synonymous (certainly in the UK context). While that is not now exclusively the case (but I would say in 90-plus percent of the time it probably still is), the GBG has over the years built up a serious brand value. To change that to satisfy a handful of moaning anti-CAMRA trolls (and you Rob who really should know better) would be just plain stupid.

Stono said...

I think on-line balloting could be a way forward, but its not as cheap or straightforward to run as you might expect because you need to ensure the vote maintains integrity, not just within CAMRA but to present to external groups as well.

Its no good having an online voting system that lets 300,000 people vote or the same people vote twice, or even say allow people to vote on others behalf.

These are potentially issues with the current offline system, but increasing the number of votes does increase the risk of these more.

Certainly the NE should look to increase the numbers of members taking part in the AGM, but thats arguably true of the whole organisation, including assisting local branches, campaigns and volunteering at beer festivals, but I think thats the difference between what some see as just a beer club and a campaign organisation, its actually about rolling up your sleeves and getting involved.

Id also say I think if you increased the numbers voting, you need to increase the amount of information available on some of these motions.Fine some of the motions are fairly straightforward,some rather pointless, but others are quite complicated, not helped by the different ways each have been written but its not necessarily clear what your supposed to be voting for or against, which again is an issue with the existing system, but it will be magnified by being detached remotely from the forum where these things can be debated or discussed.

motion 16 is a good case in point, it itself makes a distinction between keg craft beer and other keg beers, but doesnt suggest theres any definition that seperates the two, so is it a principle?, is it binding? presumably we all know what keg craft beer is dont we ? and yet as increasingly major brewereries defending their markets make more use of craft brewing terminology, the distinction between a keg craft beer and craft keg beer might become very blurred indeed.

but inevitably the CAMRA bashers then fall out of the woodwork, cast their stereotypes,beef up their self importance, and any chance of reasonable debate and progression on these fundamental core issues is then lost,and we get nowhere and youll still be debating the same things in Norwich and beyond.

John West said...

'youll still be debating the same things in Norwich and beyond'

Well that's inevitable - if the debates are all done and dusted, we may as well go home!. Seriously, it's the nature of membership organisations.

'I think on-line balloting could be a way forward, but its not as cheap or straightforward to run as you might expect'

Cheap or not, I care less whether it's online or postal but I pay my subs and feel I should have a ballot by right and not have to ask for it. I'm a member of other, similarly sized organisations with similar dues that organise such ballots as standard.

I thought RedNev's experience with National Trust motions was interesting (voting ahead of the AGM). It limits the scope for amendment but heads in the right direction.

"Eddie Rowles" said...

“CAMRA exists to promote cask beer. That's it. Not "good beer", cask beer (even though those two aren't necessarily synonyms). It'd be like me pitching up to the RSPB AGM and demanding to know why they are ignoring otters or spiders and denouncing them as stick in the muds were they declined to add these fascinating creatures to their list.”

I'd be very surprised if the RSPB wasn't interested to some degree in other wildlife - birds, like cask ale, don't exist in isolation - they share the same habitats and need the correct environmental conditions to survive...

Matt said...

As an organisation of over a hundred thousand members, CAMRA should of course automatically issue ballot papers to its members in the same way trade unions and political parties do. I'm not sure about a delegate conference but mandating delegates before they attend - or allowing people who don't attend to send in postal votes on motions beforehand - would mean the debates were meaningless as the result would already have been determined before anyone spoke.

Curmudgeon said...

The National Trust manages to send out 3 million postal ballot papers for elections to its Council each year. Having said that, it suffers from the same problem as the CAMRA NE, that candidates' statements are woolly declarations of support for motherhood and apple pie.

Bailey said...

Sorry to comment so late on this. (Web host hell and all that.) Between the various extremist points of view, it feels like there's a mass of people who are quite capable of understanding how an organisation can predominantly speak up for one precious thing (cask ale, birds) while also taking a supportive stance towards others (other good beer, otters).

Tend to agree with John that bickering over well-established terms like real ale, The Good Beer Guide and the Great British Beer Festival is a waste of time and energy.

Cooking Lager said...

As the primary goal of CAMRA has been achieved, why worry if it becomes irrelevant? Let new campaigns begin and end, succeed and fail on their own merits. A post CAMRA world might be a nice place and fear of it unwarrented.

Tandleman said...

Cookie. We aren't ready to turn our toes up yet. I'd need to get a new life and I'm too old for that