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Let’s imagine that Neville Chamberlain’s National Government had set out their four key policy priorities in the Spring of 1939. And they offered the following:
  • Increase economic growth
  • Reduce unemployment
  • Improve healthcareEnhance transport infrastructure

All very worthy aims, and you couldn’t argue with any of them. But you might feel that, given the international situation, they might have missed something important.
And so, in the Spring of 2012, CAMRA set out their four key campaigns:
  • Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, ciders and perries
  • Stop tax killing beer and pubs
  • Secure an effective government support package for pubsRaise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly

Given the unprecedented threat from and influence of the anti-drink lobby, you might have just thought that they would include something like “defend the right of adults to consume alcoholic drinks without unreasonable fiscal or legislative constraints”. But they didn’t.
It could be argued that, by conducting those four campaigns, they are indirectly countering the neo-Pros. But, unless the anti-drink arguments are directly challenged, they will be allowed to pass by default. The alcohol duty escalator, which CAMRA has taken up as a major campaign, is based not only on revenue-raising but also on the belief that Britain collectively drinks too much and a steady ratcheting up of taxation is a good way of countering that. The key reason for opposing it is that it is a broad-brush, indiscriminate measure that will penalise responsible drinkers while doing little for those with genuine alcohol problems.
Ducking out of this debate will, in the long term, prove to be a major miscalculation for CAMRA. And, despite all the fine words about protecting pubs, in a climate where drinking is increasingly stigmatised, it will retreat from the public to the private sphere. As I’ve said in the past, a society in which the regular, moderate consumption of alcohol is viewed in a relaxed, tolerant way as a normal part of everyday life will have successful pubs. On the other hand, pubs will struggle when alcohol is widely regarded in a censorious and disapproving manner.
I’ve long ago reached the conclusion that the great and good of CAMRA will only acknowledge the existence of the neo-Pro juggernaut when it actually runs them down.