Tuesday, 20 March 2018

To Be or not to Be

There is an excellent piece of analysis in Phil's blog about CAMRA's Revitalisation proposals.  Phil does a bit of slicing and dicing of the various resolutions put to the members and comes out, on the whole against them. It is a worthwhile read.  At the time of writing, there is one lengthy comment which, while not taking an opposing view exactly, does pursue a more optimistic line regarding of the future of the Campaign if change occurs.

Dominic Pinto is the commentator and he cuts through a lot of the arguments with the following observation "In setting out more succinct objects the proposed new Articles [of Association] 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."

Of course when you read a lot of the words written in support of change, it is clear that no matter how carefully framed - and I suppose there must have been many iterations - there is still an element of Humpty Dumpty about them  "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."  I rather fancy that there is a deliberate element of (at best) vagueness in what is proposed, as the changes, when you think about them, are backgrounded against two seemingly irreconcilable objectives. On one hand there is the perceived need to move with the times in the face of a rapidly changing beery landscape and on the other a wish to say it is all much the same - except we will not say bad things about keg - and will allow festivals to sell it - though that ship has already sailed. In other words, we don't want to frighten the horses, the horses being those of us in the Campaign who actually put in the time and effort. Will the stalwarts take their bats and balls home in other words? Will they believe Humpty Dumpty or Alice?

If Dominic is to be believed though, that in itself may not be a worry. He has a lot of experience of other voluntary organisation and sees a ray of hope there. Comparing CAMRA with organisations such as Oxfam, and the Consumers Association and countering some of Phil's arguments, he concludes (following arguments you should read) "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."

Returning to the proposed changes to include non real beers, the crux of the matter to many, what do we find? What are the likely views of members? Now I suspect from observation that most members do mostly drink real ale and lots of active members do drink non real ales from time to time. (I do, but mostly lager not ale). Likely non active members do the same.  There are pockets in the country of die hard real ale folks who "up with this they will not put" but in the main most of us, while championing great quality real ale, will drink other things from time to time. The changes in emphasis will not affect what we do one little bit. Most of us will continue with the main objective of drinking and supporting real ale and the idea of mass resignations, or campaigning for "Evil Keg Filth" are to my mind as fanciful as the notion that including non real beer recognition in our objectives will attract lots of new people to becoming active in the Campaign. In reality it won't happen and actually, when you think about it, why would it? As an aside, at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, we have a substantial non real ale presence and while there may have been the odd bit of member unease about it, nobody has refused to work at the festival for that reason.  We do have some younger members working as a result of it, but many of them are from the breweries offering the product - so that may not count that much.

What about the armchair CAMRA members who will have a vote on all of this for the first time? Will the tail wag the dog? (I know the small number of activists compared to total members are really the tail, but you see what I mean.)  My own experience is that it is almost impossible to get those that are passive members to do anything, whether it is nominating for Pubs of the Year, Good Beer Guide entries, or pretty much anything else at all. So will they turn out in droves to vote for or against the proposed changes? I rather doubt it, but maybe, just maybe, there could be enough to outvote the activists, though I suspect their vote will be split too.

So, what will happen and how will I vote? The outcome is by no means certain is all I can say. Despite my remarks above about armchair voting, that is a big unknown. In fact I just don't know, though my instinct is that if members believe that the future of real ale is threatened or even compromised by the proposals, then they will vote to retain the status quo.

As for me, I like to think I'm a moderniser, but underneath it all, there's a bit of, as Hilaire Belloc said, "always keep a-hold of Nurse for fear of finding something worse." 

The pick and mix nature of the resolutions make for a known unknown. Depending on how it is voted on, it could end up a dog's breakfast.

CAMRA does need change though, so likely that's what will swing it for me. But remember the pick and mix warning.


Curmudgeon said...

Oxfam is maybe not the best example to use at present!

But I suspect, whatever the outcome of the vote, CAMRA will slowly morph into the same kind of top-down organisation with a largely passive, subs-paying membership base. Sadly, hard-yards grass-roots activism is becoming terminally unfashionable.

Phil deserves credit for having dissected the Special Resolutions in detail, which I'm not aware anyone else has done.

Sheffield Hatter said...

Yes, I found Phil's analysis helpful in that it chimed with my gut instinct on these proposals. I've been a Camra member for a longish time and an enthusiast for real ale for even longer, but I've never been active. I went to my first ever branch meeting in February, where I spoke about the proposed changes and subsequently volunteered to do some pub surveys, and joined in a discussion (if that's the right word) on Discourse. Without the advent of the changes proposed following the Revitalisation Project, I wouldn't have done any of these things.

My theme, for which I got a good slagging on Discourse, is Cask ale good, keg beer bad! It seems to me that if you call yourself the Campaign for Real Ale you have to campaign for real ale. Even acknowledging that it is possible to drink a keg beer without gagging leads to derisory headlines in newspapers (see: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/03/17/storm-pint-glass-beer-drinkers-split-camra-plan/) and undermines not only your whole campaign but your organisation's raison d'être.

If the resolutions are passed, I will certainly be resigning my membership.

Phil said...

Cheers, all!

My position both is and isn't the same as the Hatter's. 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"
"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. I drink keg beers sometimes, but it doesn't give me an existential crisis as a real ale drinker; real ale is still real ale.

I'm also not at all convinced about the removal of the 'objects' which relate to things like the GBG and CAMRA Books, which hasn't had a lot of attention - I hadn't even noticed it myself until I went through the changes methodically.

(And that's not to mention the whole thing about cider. I'm convinced APPLE are going to split from CAMRA sooner or later, and I'm starting to wish it would be sooner.)

Stono said...

but my mind is drawn back to Liverpool 2 years ago, only 5000 of the armchair members voted by post nearly all in favour of the special resolutions though I dont recall the exact breakdowns, but missing what could best be described as very fraught discussion on them, and discussion was all it could be because special resolutions cant be changed, or modified. after all thousands have registered their voting intentions.

The registered 1400 members at the AGM, though if in reality there was more than 1000 there in person Id be surprised, were outvoted on every change, inspite of the NEs inability it seemed to be able to count properly,only 75 per cent of those voting to be in favour is needed in order to pass any of the special resolutions.

So 185,000 of CAMRA current members could completely ignore this process, and the same 5000 postal votes carry the resolutions whilst not maybe even thinking about the changes they are voting for, whilst the 1000 odd in Coventry are left to ponder why bother turning up anymore.

I do see CAMRA ending up more as a top down organisation, more as a National Trust/English Heritage/RSPB style, as a result of this. Of course people who actively volunteer, who campaign intrinsically for real ale, wont resign en masse or stop what they are doing, but I suspect branches will over time slowly become a lot looser affiliated with a national CAMRA body.

DaveS said...

I'm about to put something up on the subject myself, but I generally agree with Phil's point above about "one particular form of good beer that's worth campaigning for". On the other hand, I'd say that that's largely what the RP is proposing. The stuff about providing information to people interested in beer of any type seems to be designed to support that - if they ignore or deny the existence of good keg beer then they'll increasingly lack credibility when they talk up the merits of real ale.

I'm not really bothered by the bits about publications and "activities" - I'd say that those are covered by the basic "promote real ale" objective, at least for as long as they're useful ways of promoting real ale. And if they aren't, why bother?

Sheffield Hatter said...

I've replied to Phil on his own blog. (This is a bit like having a discussion with two blokes at the same time, one in the public bar and one in the saloon. Not saying which is which, mind.)

DaveS said...

BTW, I have to say that I'm surprised by the amount of objection to these proposals. I can't help thinking that a lot of people decided as soon as it was announced that the Revitalisation Project was part of a conspiracy to turn CAMRA into the Campaign for Overpriced Keg and are continuing to treat it as such even when it proposes objectives like "to secure the long term future of real ale, real cider and real perry by increasing their quality, availability and popularity". It's getting into tinfoil hat territory.

geordiemanc said...

As I have said in response to Phil's blog, I find much of the "dissection" draws some fairly random parallels but in equating objectives with current activities and trying to draw direct comparisons between existing and proposed objectives.

Most of what he suggests is being "thrown out" has simply been repackaged into more concise and more general objectives - largely in line with the national and local campaigns which have been run in recent years.

Those who choose to draw conclusions like "CAMRA will be campaigning for Fosters" are reading the absolute worst into every single word and extrapolating scenarios which simply aren't going to happen, but which give a convenient headline to argue rejection. As DaveS suggests, seems most in this camp have decided against long before reading the proposals.

One correction. When you say "nobody has refused to work at the festival for that reason" - I believe there was one who did not return for a second day citing the K word and one who refused up front after reading about the Manchester Brewers Challenge. So 2 in 330 - 0.6%

In your own commentary you seem to suggest a general split that "activists" will be against, while "armchair" voters may be in favour.

Well, Phil may largely have voted against, but very few of his fellow branch members attending branch meetings have expressed any great concerns about the proposals. There's no indication that the vote going in favour will have any great effect on the committee activists, while there are a couple who have indicated they could leave in the event of a rejection.

You also know the general feeling of the majority of the MBCF working party who are all "active".

As a final straw poll in my "active" parts of the Campaign, I have also asked the direct question of the ODsBarGBBF team - 50% of the 26 members indicated they would remain active members no matter which way the vote goes, 11 didn't vote and 2 are considering leaving if proposals don't go through.

Curmudgeon said...

"I have to say that I'm surprised by the amount of objection to these proposals."

Yes, but there's a lot in the actual revitalisation report that is only implicit in the Special Resolutions, especially the stuff about recognising modern "quality" keg beers and being dismissive about "low-quality, widely-distributed" cask beers - in many cases the same beers that were at the forefront of CAMRA's campaigning in the early days.

DaveS said...

Recognising modern "quality" keg beers in the sense of "acknowledge the existence of" yes, I don't see how it benefits CAMRA to stick their heads in the sand and deny the obvious, particularly since they've been happily doing this with foreign beer for years. In the sense of "campaign for" it's not there at all, and there are several explicit statements to the contrary.

And digging out one quote from the accompanying verbiage about "low-quality widely-distributed" cask beers and using it as a reason to vote down a series of pragmatic, moderate proposals that mention nothing of the sort seems like exactly the sort of tinfoil hattery that I was talking about previously.

ABrewHaHa said...

Many years ago, on the way from Olympia to Bread & Roses I told the Cab driver that we were the Militant wing of CAMRA as we were happy to drink Keg beer as long it was good beer. The same still stands,good beer is good beer. Not all Cask Conditioned beer is good and neither is all Keg beer. Neither CAMRA nor the Tickerati & Bloggerati are the arbiters of good beer. I know what I mean as good beer, just as I'm sure you know what you mean. We may agree to agree, or not.

Moiety said...

The problem with Phils dissection is that it is clearly starting from a biased standpoint. For example he claims that WB and GBG will be thrown out.

That is not correct as those are devices on which how CAMRA will achieve its aims, and should never have been in the original resolutions (indeed they specifically were not but that is another story). Clearly such materials are included for under SR5, unless Phil thinks that all education is restricted to the classroom or cellar?

Further there was 1 person certainly who had problems with volunteering at MBCF. He simply walked away due to kegs being used (though had volunteered the previous year).

Syd Differential said...

CAMRA was set up because real ale was dying out and being replaced by terrible keg beer.
Today the reality is keg beer is leading the way in innovation and taste whilst real ale is stuck in a rut of endless poorly-kept boring brown bitters and a variety of dull golden ales that all taste exactly the same.
CAMRA has to move with the times or it will eventually go the way that real ale itself very nearly went.

Richard Coldwell said...

Very well said. Members should either vote for it in it's entirety or not at all. They should also carefully ask themselves whether they want to be Dinosaurs or Dynamos?

Py said...

Real ale in theory and cask ale in practice are two completely different things, and no one can tell the difference anyway. Cask breathers and brewery conditioning see to that. The whole thing is a myth, a campaign for unicorn piss. You're campaigning for something that doesn't even really exist, but in such a divisive and antagonistic manner that you actually damage the image of the cask beer you're trying to protect.

Curmudgeon said...

"keg beer is leading the way in innovation and taste"

Well, in many pubs it does seem to have cornered the market in novelty, partly because it doesn't need the turnover that cas does. But in those same pubs, the bread-and-butter, big-selling beers are usually still cask.

Tandleman said...

Ah Py. Let's see now. Perhaps you could explain the difference between real ale and cask, just so we can see where it fits with your view of the world?

There isn't much demand (see what I did there?)for cask breathers nowadays, so you are off the money there and while there is rather a lot of brewery conditioning if you mean it in the sense of using bright beer tanks - and why not actually? - and the re-seeding the cleaned beer with yeast - and why not actually? - though it is usually just larger brewers who do this, then we'll just have to differ. Seems to me you are being a bit of a purist there, which is what you accuse others of.

As for being antagonistic, I'd say you have a valid claim to this behaviour yourself.

Py said...

Can your tell the difference between real ale and non Real cask ale with 100% accuracy? Why would you campaign for something that doesn't even make a noticeable difference to the experience? Its perverse and counterproductive. Real ale should be dispatched to the dustbin of history before cask beer disappears altogether