Admittedly, one of the reasons I wanted to do this particular session was that it was being hosted by the Southwark brewery, and as such, was another small step towards doing every brewery in London this year. But I also have views, some of which aren't always entirely in line with established CAMRA dogma, and this was an opportunity to make them heard. Possibly.
For a start, I didn't agree with the negative and provocative language they used in bringing this exercise to the attention of the mainstream media, though I have to admit, it certainly got their attention, if possibly not for the best of reasons...
So, how did it all go? And what can you expect when the Revitez crew to rock up in your manor going all craft on you?
Very definitely not the end for CAMRA
Campaign founder Michael Hardman and relatively new Chief Exec Tim Page chaired the proceedings. Learned, reasonable men, both, and I really don't envy them having to do this another 40-odd times.
|Michael Hardman addresses the audience|
The event was heavily oversubscribed and several wannabe attendees had to be turned away - but this sign of encouragement is balanced out by the fact that the vast majority of those who made it to the meeting were long-time local branch activists.
The purpose of these consultations is to hear the unheard voices of those thousands of 'inactive' members. Instead we saw the same old faces and heard the same old arguments, many of which were nothing to do with beer or campaigning and more around insignificant points of order which is exactly the sort of petty politics that puts me off branch meetings!
One of the questions put to our keypads was length of CAMRA membership. Around half of us (including me) ticked the last option - 'over 20 years'. The more recent sign-ups were scarce, and we didn't get to find out what they think.
The big questions facing the campaign are obvious:
Who should CAMRA represent - just real ale drinkers? Real ale and cider drinkers? All beer drinkers? Anyone who enjoys going to a pub even if they drink WKD and only go for the twerking karaoke competition? People who get their beer from a supermarket that stands where a pub used to be?
What should CAMRA's aims and objectives be - is it still about campaigning for real ale? Should the remit be broadened if we're to start representing other types of consumer? Is the battle now to save pubs generally? Should we be against anything - the anti-alcohol lobby, craft keg, mass-market keg, that supermarket that stands where the pub used to be?
Why does CAMRA even need to exist these days? And if it doesn't, what, if anything should replace it? (That fucking supermarket?!)
When I were a lad that there fizzy 'craft' rubbish were all fields...
Unsurprisingly, the big picture debate was frequently sidelined in favour of the usual trivial shit about whether it's morally right to lure new members in with Wetherspoons vouchers - of course, the new members lured in by the vouchers were probably in Wetherspoons spending them, considering that a better use of their time than attending the consultation meeting.
To their credit, Tim and Michael did their best to keep things on track and they didn't allow individuals to waste too much time making the same points repeatedly. Hopefully they learned something useful, despite the makeup of the audience surely confirming their worst fears - that those they really want to hear from will always be drowned out by the activists.
So far as my own views go, it was encouraging to hear that most present do not believe the battle for real ale has been won. I made a point about how CAMRA's mission statement includes nothing about campaigning for stylistic diversity or choice (which it should), which was met with general agreement.
Slightly more disappointingly, few people seemed to think that working on cask beer quality was important (just bloody well try a random pint in a random pub in London, and it'll almost certainly be somewhere between mediocre and abysmal!) and there was a general consensus that campaigning to keep pubs open was extremely important - I argued the opposite; that I do 99% of my drinking in 1% of pubs, so do most people, that it's only good pubs that are worth saving, and that having fewer, but better pubs might be a more sensible tack than keeping struggling, shitty pubs open at all costs.
Not an awful lot was spoken about the craft keg debate, though, annoyingly, people seemed to use the terms 'craft beer' and 'real ale' as if they were mutually exclusive, which is just ignorant.
There were a couple of hardliners on either extreme in attendance, but I think most folks are on the same page as me - I drink all different types of beer, but the entire point of CAMRA is Real Ale, and if that core remit changed, a replacement 'REAL CAMRA' or something would need to come along.
This was one of the first consultation meetings in the Revitalisation programme. It will be repeated over and over, all across the country.
And at the end of that, CAMRA will, almost certainly, conclude that there is no appetite from the membership for any sort of significant change.