I took the chance of Christmas Day to read through the full report from the committee who have been looking into and consulting on revitalising CAMRA.
I’ve been a member since 1975 and have no plans to leave whatever happens (except of course my demise which I hope is some way off yet). I read the summary of the report’s conclusions when it appeared a few weeks back and they seemed broadly OK to me.
I think revitalising CAMRA is an important project and the report hits on the reasons why. The campaign was formed in the 1970s and still has many of the hallmarks of that decade. It is not appealing enough to new younger generations of drinkers who like good beer and who are the future of the campaign if it is to have one. In the circumstances the reported fact that only a third of the membership is over 60 is not as ‘bad’ as it could be. ‘Bad’ because campaigns need activists with time and energy and while you might well have both at 60 and over (I’m 60 myself) commitments probably mean you have less of both available for CAMRA than if you were 20.
I’m generalising obviously but not from ignorance. I’m a veteran of numbers of projects to revitalise and modernise another campaigning institution that relies primarily on voluntary work, trade unions.
Here I must admit the Revitalisation project causes me some concern. Any significant change to an organisation you make will mean that some who are active in it to one degree or another take the opportunity to slide away and stop being active. The trick is to minimise that while maximising the attraction of new activists. That is less easy now than it was in the 1970s because there is something of a crisis of activism. The report seems unaware of this point. Of course there are many people who are active but this tends to be arguably more in single issue time limited campaigns rather than people committing themselves to building and retaining organisation and campaigning for an indefinite period. There are all kinds of reasons for this but the pressure of modern working life is certainly an important issue to give one example.
The report also has figures on something that was clear to me at the Revitalisation meeting I attended (at Southwark Brewing in Druid St). Namely that on some key issues CAMRA membership is quite evenly split. On that basis the committee are absolutely right to take further time to consider and review proposals and delay decisions until 2018. That time needs to be taken in building a consensus on the way forward where it doesn’t currently exists (in many areas it does btw).
On the report itself there are some areas I completely agree on: the need to take on the anti-alcohol lobby’s attack on moderate drinking for example; an idea to be part of a wider campaign promoting good beer and drinks in general and focusing on the pub as the hub both of the community and of sensible drinking.
The report is clear that some mass-produced cask beer is bland (and may have little secondary fermentation) and that in such cases ‘craft’ keg beers may in most areas and in some cases be superior products. The emphasis on cask as the pinnacle of the brewer’s art is to remain and rightly so but it needs to be seen in that context. Where cask is well brewed, and served in good condition that in my view remains the case. But that is all too rare. I might have a handful of pints of cask in a month that fit that description. By contrast most glasses of craft keg I have will be fine (a few will be too old or over carbonated). There is much work for CAMRA to do here and the report recognises there is.
Finally the report is unhappy about the off-trade and rightly worries about pricing policies in supermarkets and the impact this has on pubs. Of course I’d rather someone with little money could get a can of decent beer from a supermarket (or a pint from Wetherspoons) than not, but undercutting on price is a very serious concern.
That said the specialist off-licences that are springing up that certainly don’t undercut on price but do offer excellent beer ranges surely deserve CAMRA support.
Any way much more could be said but the Revitalisation Project is important work in progress with some way to go yet. For the sake of the future of decent beer in the UK let’s hope it gets there.