Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Point Of CAMRA

I've been wondering about this for some time.

RedNev writes here that beer festivals, and especially CAMRA ones, are entering a new age of commerciality what with their charging a £7 entry fee and going to online ticket selling.  While this begs the question what the funds raised by this, and more to the point any surplus after venue fees and beer cost, go towards, I've been asking myself recently : What is CAMRA FOR in 2013.

The 1970s battle has been won.  Real Ale has been saved, and there are now hundred of breweries in the UK making it; <checks watch> possibly even thousands by now.  Though certain CAMRA branches (mine included) still believe big brewers want to rip out all the handpumps and make us all drink Watney's Red Barrel again, I don't think this will happen somehow.

In my experience, there is a certain suspicion amongst licensees about CAMRA's members' motives.  In another town (and another branch), one landlord said to me "Oh, you're in CAMRA, are you?",  and tried to get me to vote for his pub at the next committee meeting.  "The bastards only vote for <pub name removed>, as they give them the biggest discount.", he complained.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that even if I did have any influence with the Beard Club, I certainly didn't have any round here.  I was told similar things by other landlords in the same town, such as "They whinge about pub closing, but all they want is money off their next pint."

It could be that, for the vast majority of members, the discount is the main reason for joining CAMRA. What percentage of the membership is involved in actual "campaigning", rather than thinking of it as a money-off club with a free quarterly magazine?  My guess is in single figures.  CAMRA publicity material flaunts its 150,000 strong cohort, but usually only uses it as a tool to gain influence.  "Look at how many of us there are supporting real ale", it seems to say, despite the fact that few of them do more than simply buying it.

Maybe CAMRA should change its emphasis to supporting the suffering pub trade, or providing a voice against the increasing demonisation of public alcohol consumption.  If it doesn't find a distinct role, it could become an increasing irrelevance, populated by a silent membership whose sole reason for joining is the Wetherspoons tokens.


  1. Oh, by the way, I recently acquired a copy of "Ale Cry", which really is as bad as you say - appalling layout and strident, ranty tone.

  2. Yes, well, I thought that the first time I saw a copy. I thought about offering to help them design it (I am by no means a professional designer, but I have enough experience to improve their product), but then I thought "Do I really want to be associated with what's written here?"..

  3. Generally, the only CAMRA discount I claim (other than Spoons tokens, and I never use them all anyway) is in the Lion in Liverpool which offers 10p off a pint. I do this because the usual price is £3.10, and this way I don't end up with a pocket full of loose change.

  4. I wrote a reponse, it was too long and your blog said: Your HTML cannot be accepted: Must be at most 4,096 characters


    So I put it here instead:

    Entirely my own PoV, I certainly don't speak for CAMRA... gawdno...

    (Meanwhile... using my Google account as I cannot for the life of me work out how to make my WordPress account work with this form.)

  5. For me, it's all about the member benefits. Why be embarrassed about that? You find a member stand where they flog memberships on the basis of a campaign and I’ll show you all the rest that flog something worth the price of admission. It’s a beardie beer club and in the scheme of things not a bad one. Worth the quid.

    The magazine is good, monthly newsletter shite. Spoons tokens all get used and I scrounge them off others. Any spare, Mudge? The pubs discounts are useless as pubs don't have signs up. It's like a secret discount for those in the know.

    The free entry into festivals is much diminished, as I don't fancy Thursdays. The occasional free piss up/ brewery tour is usually a good crack. Only if it’s free, like.

    Overall it's worth it, even if it is a bunch of lefties. Most beardy people are quitter nice folk to have a pint with. A few are nutcases but that’s life, you learn to swerve them. When the spoons tokens go the membership benefits are not really worth it.

    All in they would be better off knocking all this nonsense leftie campaigning on the head, and stick to organising free piss ups for the likes of me.

    1. W.R.T 'spoons vouchers - I think they could be a bit less "in your face". How about publishing a few in What's Brewing every month. (Too easy to counterfeit maybe? Maybe a colour page in BEER would solve that). Make them more a bit of Wetherspoons marketing than what looks like a CAMRA-supplied 'spoons-promoting "membership benefit" (which, of course, they are to an extent... it's politics/appearances... the problem is that CAMRA loses active members over the vouchers, because it's difficult being involved when your local's landlord thinks you're working against him).

    2. I've used a few Spoons vouchers myself in the past. The problem I always found is that you had to go to a Spoons to use them.

    3. I don't care what my local landlord thinks. I just want a cheap pint. He can cut his prices if he likes or send me some vouchers of his own. As for bum licking him, feel free if you think there is a point to that. I'm a consumer, though, I want what's best for me, not what others think is best for me.

      Feel free to drop the spoons tokens if you like but what else you gonna give me worth £20 ?

    4. I care what my local landlord thinks because I a) like my local and b) like being part of CAMRA. If this causes hassle I'm more likely to leave CAMRA than my local - as has happened several times. But, as ever I'm speaking as an active CAMRA member, sometime committee member, so it's a different perspective.

      I understand why the 'spoons tokens are a good thing for the membership. I'm suggesting in my comment their profile be lowered, not that they be disposed of. I've met quite a few folk who simply wouldn't get time in a pub with their mates if it wasn't for the economics of Wetherspoons, and others still in tighter circumstances who rely on 'spoons + tokens. Mostly older folk... and I don't really want to take that away from them. But I'd like the appearance of the offer to look like less of a blatant 'spoons promotion on the part of CAMRA.

    5. If you start flogging CAMRA as a campaign rather than a set of member benefits, where is the enlightened self interest that suggests it's in my interest to join?

      I get the 1970's argument, irrelevant today, but where is the 2013 argument? What do I care if pubs close? Enough of the ones I like are open. Ones I don't like appear to close and in those cases a Tesco Express is more use to me.

      If it's a consumer union then better and cheaper product is what you're about. Benefits for members.

      Why do people join trade unions? Is for the socialist revolution?, the betterment of others? or is it the enlightened self interest of benefits & collective bargaining?

  6. I would agree that a lot of the recent growth in membership has been driven by the benefits, specifically Spoons tokens and discounted entry to festivals.

    For many of the established members, it has become more of a beer drinkers' club than a campaign as such. Much of the campaigning activity now seems at best pointless and at worst actually counter-productive.

    The one campaign that actually was successful - scrapping the beer duty escalator - only worked because it resonated well beyond the bounds of CAMRA and specifically amongst those with a general opposition to high taxes, something some of the dinosaur leadership with a yearning for minimum pricing and supermarket-bashing don't really seem to have taken on board.

    Incidentally, Cookie, I still have 7 Spoons tokens that expire on Saturday. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend tonight's Spoons Pub of the Month and so they'll probably end up in the bin.

  7. Don't forget, the local branch and the national organisation also provides a focus for all interested parties, be they ordinary drinkers, publicans, campaigners,or brewers. Without that hub you don't find out about the beer festivals as easily (and you don't have the organisation there to put the beer festivals together in the first place), you don't hear about interesting new pubs or beers, and you don't find out your local is under threat until you turn up one day to find the doors locked.

  8. I get all my info now ahead of CAMRA via social media so I disagree

  9. I suppose you could advance the argument "What's the use of?" to any set of vaguely like minded individuals who get together for any particular purpose when you examine it closely. For many it is a night out with people they get on with and generally supporting a cause that they kind of feel they agree with.

    The point of JDW vouchers is moot, as in most cases they just aren't used and of course for JDW they get a load of individuals in their pubs when at other times they mightn't. Organisations providing member benefits is hardly unique to CAMRA, nor is lack of activism. Members asking for a discount is something I don't find appealing, but taking advantage of one that is offered is hardly a crime, or even ill advised.

    Of course, all CAMRA Branches aren't the same. Mine for instance has a very positive relationship with landlords and landladies too for that matter and we seem to be welcomed with open arms. Funnily enough though I have been Chairman for over 15 years, I suffer neither from resentment nor from pleading either locally or elsewhere. Maybe every other CAMRA member is some kind of monster and I only meet nice publicans?

    What are we for? At the highest level a lobbying group. At the lowest level a social club, but mostly doing a little good somewhere in between for the real ale cause.

  10. I never used to use my Spoons Vouchers (or maybe two a quarter), but we are privileged in Birmingham to have two excellent freehouses that accept them; the Post Office Vaults and the Woodman. Now I have plenty of opportunity to do so. They are an perk, but my CAMRA 'hobby' costs me far more in travel expenses than I am saved in beer.

    My gripe is with the 'beardie' tag. I am an active campaigning CAMRA member, as are most of my friends. I've been trying to fit in for more than 20 years, but my beard just won't grow. I figure that if I show my cleavage people may not notice...

    CAMRA members are available in all shapes, sizes, genders and ages. There are certain things that we all have in common (Mostly love of real ale/cider/perry and insanity!). But the organisation still enjoys a great deal of success in campaigning on a local and national level. Those members who enjoy their member benefits should not be criticised as they help to fund those campaigns. The duty excalator is gone, pubs are saved every day, and we are very hopeful of a better deal for Pub Co, licensees.

    Furthermore, although the range of ales and appley stuff available now is a credit to CAMRA's success, drinkers are still required (no experience required, as full training will be given). Our members help to keep real products on the bar.

    Anyway, can't stop to chat. I'm off to the pub...