Opinion: CAMRA vote signifies lack of desire for change

By James Beeson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mixed bag: CAMRA made positive moves on diversity, but failed to fully embrace craft keg
Mixed bag: CAMRA made positive moves on diversity, but failed to fully embrace craft keg
In many ways, this weekend’s annual general meeting (AGM) felt like a watershed moment for the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA).

Heading into the weekend, there were many in the industry who believed that the largest consumer organisation in Europe was in its final throes, desperately trying to remain relevant in an ever-changing beer market.

A proposed motion to add “representing the interests of all pubgoers and beer, cider and perry drinkers” to CAMRA’s Articles of Association – the statement of what the campaign exists to achieve – was widely seen as the organisation’s best chance of enduring.

This long overdue change – if approved – would see CAMRA finally accept and promote other types of beer, seen as a necessary step in order for the organisation to modernise and shake off its outdated image.

However, despite voting through a raft of changes, including one that will see the organisation provide information, education and training on “beer, cider and perry of any type” and allow other types of beer to be sold at its festivals, CAMRA members narrowly rejected​ the call to widen the organisations scope to promote other types of beer, cider and perry, and in doing so, sent a clear message to the industry.

That message? “We’re not interested in adapting. We don’t want to change.”

Steadfast against change

There are some who will argue that the motion still had the support of 72% of voters at the AGM, and who will point to the host of other reforms the organisation has put into place, including setting targets for equality and diversity, and challenging pervasive discount culture by condemning members who demand money off from pubs.

These are all excellent moves, which will no doubt improve the organisation, but it is no coincidence that the only motion that failed to pass was the one that would have enabled CAMRA to finally fully embrace craft beer and promote the whole vast array of beers being produced by the UK’s best breweries.

Combine this with the election of Lynn Atack – a member who describes craft keg as “a threat” – to the organisation’s National Executive, and it’s clear that a great number of the organisation’s members remain steadfastly against any kind of change.

The potential impact of the weekend’s votes depends entirely on how the organisation’s new Articles of Association are interpreted and implemented, but with Tiny Rebel’s Bradley Cummings (widely seen as the most pro-change candidate) failing​ to make the National Executive, it seems unlikely that craft keg will be welcomed with open arms anytime soon.

Craft keg not welcome

Moreover, the way in which the result has been celebrated by certain sections of the membership gives a clear indication as to how it ought to be perceived by the public. “We are the campaign for real ale, if you want to form a group to promote craft keg fine f**k off and do it and stop moaning,” tweeted one member. “Time to form your own group. We’ve heard the threats of ‘I’m leaving’ and such – I hope people do,” stated another gleefully.

This vote was symbolic in that it enabled disgruntled members of an ageing organisation to make themselves heard, sending across the message that anyone who wants to support craft keg is not welcome.

The consequences of the vote are already being felt, with brewers, pubs and drinkers expressing their disappointment and taking action. Beers have been removed​ from CAMRA festivals in response, while members have taken to social media to cut up their membership cards and make a point that they feel the organisation no longer represents them.

The AGM marks the end of a two-year long consultation process on the future of the campaign. The Revitalisation Project​ was supposed to bring CAMRA into the 21st century, and cement its place as the voice of pub lovers and drinkers. Instead, it leaves the organisation looking increasingly outdated, stubborn and divided.    

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