I shan’t be going to next month’s CAMRA Member’s Weekend and AGM which, this year, takes place in Nottingham. Work and family commitments have conspired against me, so regrettably I am unable to spare the time necessary in order to attend.
In some ways this is a great shame, as from what I understand Nottingham is a great city for beer, with much to offer the drinker and beer connoisseur. As well as a host of award-winning breweries, Nottingham also has some great pubs, including one of the few in the city which I have been in; the ancient and quite unique Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which nestles below the imposing Castle Rock. The weekend would also have afforded the opportunity to catch up with friends both old and new from within the campaign.
In other ways though I am quite pleased not to be going, as the conference proceedings themselves are of little or no interest to me. Reminiscent of a 1970’s Trades Union Conference, this part of the weekend really shows that CAMRA is living in the past and has refused to move on, as I will demonstrate later. A glance through the order paper, published in this month’s “What’s Brewing” confirms this introspection, as apart from the eminently sensible motion proposed by Tandleman and his CAMRA colleague Graham Donning which draws attention to the outrageous practice adopted by many pubs of charging a premium for half pints, there is nothing really of interest and certainly little of relevance to today’s fast changing beer scene.
Among the less sensible motions is one which effectively rules out future CAMRA involvement in the “There’s a Beer for That” campaign, and one calling for the campaign to withdraw its support for the Cyclops scheme of beer tasting/assessment, on the grounds that it has expanded to include all beers. Yes let’s isolate ourselves from the brewing industry and burn all the bridges that CAMRA has so carefully built over the years with brewers and publicans alike.
The most controversial motion though, is Number 20; the last one on the order paper. It reads “This conference proposes that CAMRA shall oppose fracking and unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and extraction on both a local and national scale, as they pose a real and substantial threat to the production and quality of real ale”. Yeah, right on Swampy!
I am assuming that the relevance of this motion to CAMRA is the potential effect this practice could have on underground water supplies (aquifers). Not withstanding the controversy behind fracking, the jury is still out on the practice, and anyway areas suitable for shale gas extraction in the UK are both limited and fragmented; unlike the United States and Canada. In addition, the current record low price of oil makes even exploration for ground-sourced hydrocarbons unviable at the moment.
To return to the potential threat to water supplies; these days many underground sources are unsuitable for brewing because they contain high levels of nitrates, which originate from agricultural run-off, so the whole point of the motion is rendered irrelevant anyway.
Irrelevant until one looks deeper at the motive for including this motion on the ballot paper! Any branch, of individual member, can submit a motion for debate at conference, but before going forward all motions are first vetted by CAMRA’s equivalent of the Politburo. Far worthier motions than this one have been rejected in the past, and I’m certain many will have been discarded prior to this year’s conference. This then begs the question is CAMRA lurching further to the left? Or is it unashamedly trying to woo the green vote?
Either way this issue is at best a fringe one, and at worst totally outside the Campaign’s remit. For me this is yet further proof that CAMRA has lost its way and is in grave danger of being sidelined as an irrelevance in today’s fast evolving and rapidly changing beer industry.
CAMRA currently boasts a membership in excess of 170,000 which is pretty impressive until one considers that its policy is determined solely by those members who attend the National AGM. The last set of figures I have seen for the Members Weekend – National Conference are from the Norwich Conference, which took place in 2013. I was one of the 1,300 members who attended that event and, enjoyable though it was, when viewed as a total of the current membership, this figure is less than 1%, which quite frankly is appalling.
That issues of policy, membership fees, campaigning issues etc can be decided by less than 1% of the total membership is scandalous, and belies any attempt by CAMRA to promote itself as a democratic organisation responsive to, and in touch with the needs of its members. The fact that conference motions are pre-vetted by a central committee (shades of Joseph Stalin here!), before they are even put before the meeting is nothing short of a disgrace.
There are already serious rumblings amongst the grass-roots membership, and there is a small, but increasingly vociferous Unofficial CAMRA Facebook group. The Provisional CAMRA, perhaps? It really is time for the organisation to wake up and smell the coffee, or should that be the malt and hops?