Monday, 8 August 2016

Revitalised

I attended the CAMRA Revitalisation meeting last Saturday in the Augustus John pub in Liverpool. The discussions were steered around a set of predetermined questions which we then voted on electronically.

I didn't take notes but here are some of the results:
  • Most people present were not of the view that real ale had irreversibly been saved.
  • The place of cider and perry in the campaign was not accepted by all, with some present of the view that the cider and perry tail was wagging the CAMRA dog.
  • Pub closures are a main concern, although one or two expressed the view that the closure of pubs that don't serve real ale is no loss. 
  • Quality was an important issue.
  • The conversion of CAMRA to a much wider brief, such as all drinkers or even all beer drinkers, was unacceptable.
I personally have no problem with cider and perry being part of CAMRA's remit. I have heard at different times people say that it's the Campaign for Real Ale - clue in the name - so we should have nothing to do with cider and perry. I expect that the reason why they aren't mentioned in the name is mainly because an effective and widely recognised acronym would not be enhanced by becoming CAMRACAP. I am quite happy that our campaign covers traditional cider and perry, although I rarely drink either. For one thing, Merseyside isn't a cider stronghold.

The attitude that it doesn't matter whether pubs without real ale stay open or not is extremely selfish and short-sighted. One speaker correctly pointed out that, while the real ale situation in Liverpool city centre is very healthy, there are whole swathes of the city that are real ale deserts where 20 or 30 years ago real ale was routinely available in brewery-owned pubs. Pubs aren't just about serving real ale, and I have been in pubs that don't offer it - usually to see particular bands - that were in every other respect great pubs: busy, with a diverse range of customers, including by age, many of whom are clearly regulars, and a good atmosphere. Such pubs do meet a need in their own communities, and to dismiss them because they don't serve real ale is very much a 'dog in the manger' attitude. Besides, any pub might decide to offer real ale in the future, as long as it stays open, but a new housing development or supermarket never can.

I don't think the revitalisation meeting was a waste of time. If CAMRA's remit doesn't change much, that doesn't matter because it will have reaffirmed what it stands for. No one will be able to accuse the campaign of operating to a 1970s agenda. After such a lengthy and widely cast consultation, whatever is decided should represent what the majority of members now want, and not what craft keg advocates or other detractors keep on saying the campaign should be doing. After all, it belongs to us members.

It must really irritate the knockers that, although they like to proclaim CAMRA as increasingly irrelevant, membership keeps on rising (approaching 180,000 now). That is not all down to Wetherspoons vouchers.

By the way, any members who disapprove of the vouchers are welcome to pass them to me.

8 comments:

  1. It must really irritate the knockers that, although they like to proclaim CAMRA as increasingly irrelevant, membership keeps on rising

    What other long-established campaigning organisation does that remind me of...?

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    1. Ah yes, but if CAMRA was fighting national beer elections, it would be routinely trounced by the Lager Party πŸ˜„

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  2. The phenomenon of cities becoming hollowed-out, with a thriving pub and bar scene in the centre, but many peripheral areas becoming wastelands either for real ale or pubs at all, does seem to be a pretty general one.

    Did they ask the leading question of "would you prefer a good pint of craft keg over a bad pint of real ale?" which (rightly) got people's backs up at our meeting?

    While I can't get worked up about it, in principle I feel a touch uneasy about the Spoons voucher scheme, as it potentially compromises CAMRA's independence as a consumer organisation.

    I've given all mine for this year to pub blogger Simon Everitt, who I'm sure will get better use out of them than I did. I would usually struggle to use more than half each quarter.

    It would be good if there was a charity who were prepared to accept them, although I suppose that would undermine the objective of getting CAMRA members into pubs.

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    1. No, they didn't ask that question. In a way I was slightly disappointed because, after you'd tipped me off, I had an answer ready: that it was like the old advert where one little girl asks her sister which she likes better, Daddy or chips? Perhaps they learnt from the experience of your meeting.

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  3. I rarely use all my Spoons vouchers, and I find it hard to believe that they are responsible for the continuing increase in CAMRA membership, we are seeing.

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    1. The view from various CAMRA people, both at the meeting and elsewhere, was that the vouchers actually *were* a significant feature in recruitment and retention, although obviously not the sole one.

      They mean that, if you do go in Spoons, you're getting membership for £4 a year; if you're under 26, you're being paid to be a member.

      If I do go in Spoons, it's usually to take advantage of the meal deals, on which you can't use the vouchers.

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  4. The Spoons vouchers are just another membership benefit like any other (e.g. cottage deals or National Express) that you can choose to use or not, and there's nothing to stop any other pubco from making a similar offer. As you know, many individual (non-Spoons) pubs offer a discount to CAMRA members anyway on production of a membership card. If we were to scrap the Spoons benefit, to be consistent we'd also have to tell members not to accept membership discounts in any pub – see how far you'd get with that one. Furthermore, the media would have a field day declaring that CAMRA demands that its members pay more for beer: credibility in tatters!

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