Visit The Pub Curmudgeon site

Over the past year, CAMRA has been carrying out a strategic review under the chairmanship of former MP John Grogan. The results of this have now been published on the CAMRA website here (members only, unfortunately). It has to be said that, while a lot of effort has clearly been put into the document, and it is sensible enough as far as it goes, it isn’t quite what many people were expecting. The hope was that it would involve a fundamental review of exactly what “campaigning for real ale” means in 2011, as opposed to 1971. However, what we have got is a much more narrowly-focused exercise of examining how CAMRA goes about its campaigning, not of what it should (and shouldn’t) stand for and champion.

Indeed, that kind of root-and-branch re-examination is specifically ruled out:
It was no part of the Strategic Review Group's remit given to it by last year's Conference to second guess that democracy and pronounce on minimum pricing, the debate over the distinction between craft beers and real ales and the role CAMRA should play in combating the anti-alcohol lobby. Rather, our role was to identify ways in which CAMRA could sharpen up its act and campaigning activity.
This is, however, somewhat disingenuous. In practice, the campaigning priorities of the organisation, and its general tone, are set by the actions and words of its National Executive and professional officers, not by AGM motions, which only act to give a nudge once in a while. Somehow, the mission statement seems to have become lost in translation, and what we have is a review of tactics, not strategy.

Since CAMRA was formed in 1971, the environment in which it operates has dramatically changed. In particular, there are three major developments of recent years to which it has not yet formulated any kind of coherent response:
  1. The rise of off-trade beer consumption and the decline of pubs. At some time during 2012 the off-trade is likely to overtake the on-trade. This is closely linked with the startling rate of pub closures in recent years.
  2. The growth in the appreciation of “craft beer” which has wide areas where it does not overlap with real ale – and equally, most “real ale” is never going to be “craft beer”.
  3. The increased influence of the anti-drink lobby which has led to a much less favourable fiscal and regulatory environment for the beer and pub trade and has made consumption of alcohol, especially outside the home, markedly less socially acceptable.
The world has moved on, and you can’t go on campaigning like it was still the mid-Seventies. I’m not touting for any specific response to these trends, but if CAMRA continues to stick its collective head in the sand and says “nothing to do with us, mate”, then it risks being rendered a declining, nostalgic irrelevance.