The recent CAMRA AGM held in Norwich was rather an interesting one. It was one where CAMRA to a large extent, took a look at the future and felt itself confident about it.
I'll come to the motions in a moment, but I'll start, not with the Chairman's opening remarks, but with a very accomplished and entertaining review of the year by our Chief Executive, Mike Benner. Mike, speaking without notes, advised of a year of success, culminating in the victory in the beer escalator campaign. The lesson of concentrating efforts in a smaller number of campaigns, as recommended by the Fit for Purpose Review, was firmly learned and I'm sure that is one that will be repeated. I'll add at this point, that I'm a big fan of Mike Benner. We are truly lucky to have him.
We started off well, with a motion, seconded by me, giving the National Executive a kick up the backside for slow progress on the Fit for Purpose Review. (Which I again had a hand in.) The review really has to form the basis of the future and despite our concerns, there is signs that CAMRA is moving in the right direction. Main interest then was motions about that most divisive of words "craft". The first stated that terms such as craft keg, craft beer, craft ale, etc, were meaningless and should not be used in CAMRA publications. The motion was thankfully defeated. Next up was a motion calling for CAMRA to run a campaign to educate CAMRA members and the public about the difference between real ale and what it termed "so-called craft". The case for this wasn't helped by the mover not really explaining it very well and I spoke against it, particularly denigrating the use of the words "so-called craft." I am glad to say that the AGM supported my view overwhelmingly.
Possibly the most awaited debate on the paper was motion 19 on minimum pricing which I moved. My main theme was that it wouldn't put a single bum on a pub seat and that it placed us on the side of people such as Alcohol Concern, who were no friends of ours and that having got rid of one beer price escalator, we should not be voting for more government interference in beer pricing. There was some well put opposition to my view, but supported by powerful speakers such as Steve Bury and John Cryne, I am glad to say that my motion prevailed, with again an overwhelming majority in favour of CAMRA withdrawing its support for minimum pricing. I noted with interest that the National Executive was evenly split on this, showing, presumably, that it was a finely balanced argument within the Campaign at all levels. My other main intervention was in the discussion of CAMRA's Strategic Five Year Plan, where I succeeded in having "Looking at ways to extend CAMRA's democracy" inserted. I am glad to say this was fully backed by the National Executive.
Looking elsewhere, I was very impressed by the speech from the new Campaigner of the Year, Dale Ingram (a young woman - we do have some) speaking about a campaign to encourage communities to list their local pub as community assets. The aim is to get 300 pubs in England listed as Assets of Community Value in 2013. This is something we'll be looking at locally in my branch as it has real potential to save pubs. I was very impressed with Dale too, who only joined CAMRA two years ago. She is fantastically committed to the British pub, which makes her all right by me. A well deserved winner.
From a personal point of view, it was a good conference for me, as my main concerns all went my way. Far more importantly though was that members, looking into the future, took a responsible and considered view, not only of craft, but in the way CAMRA will face the future. The Chairman too contributed in saying, as I did and others too, that we are the Campaign FOR Real Ale, not the campaign against other beers. There was very little nuttiness, a lot of fun and a very upbeat feel and above all, the need to campaign positively was clearly recognised, which can only be good.
So, to sum up:
- Fit for Purpose commitment restated
- Two anti craft motions roundly defeated
- Support for minimum pricing withdrawn
- Positive campaigning emphasised
- Extension of democracy to be looked at
- Strategic plan adopted
I also enjoyed the speech and question and answer session by Pubs Minister Brandon Lewis who said that ""Protecting pubs is as important as the tax campaign." Too right. He joined CAMRA after his speech too!
May I also add my personal thanks to the Pub Curmudgeon for supplying much needed ammo for me to fire.