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CAMRA's new chair on need for change

Added: Friday, April 27th 2018

Jackie Parker

The time since CAMRA’s AGM and Conference concluded can still be counted in days - as can my time as the organisation’s new National Chairman. 

Despite the short period of time which has elapsed since our members voted to approve all but one of the recommendations to change our Articles of Association, many have already rushed to judge the outcome.

It would be tempting to resort to similar knee-jerk responses. It’s easy for many to criticise when their authority on the subject extends no further than their strongly-held opinion. It’s also easy to tell others what they should or could be doing, when you have no responsibility or accountability for actually delivering what you say needs to be done.

I believe it’s best to focus on the positive and the factual.

CAMRA carried out its largest ever consultation over the last two years. As well as consulting with tens of thousands of members, we also talked to many in the pub and brewery trades, as well as journalists with expertise on the subject, politicians and other decision makers.

The changes to our Articles of Association - CAMRA’s constitutional document - were not just what the National Executive believed, they were a distillation of the views of the majority  of our members.

We set ourselves a difficult challenge. We were determined to give all members the opportunity to have a final say on the changes, and the only way of doing this was by putting Special Resolutions to members at our AGM. Company Law requires that Special Resolutions are approved by 75% of those who vote - a high bar in any organisation.

Despite this, we got approval for all but one of those Special Resolutions - in many cases far above the 75% threshold.

Regarding the single Special Resolution which did not achieve the 75 % approval required, of those 18,000 who voted almost 73 % expressed support - in any other situation a clear majority.

We knew from the outset the Revitalisation Project would be challenging for some of our members. We knew by having the debate and making the recommendations, we risked losing members regardless of the outcome. We did not allow these fears to stop us doing what needed to be done.

Some of those we risked alienating hold equally strong views as those who sit at the other end of the spectrum, when it comes to different types of beer and dispense. It’s easy to cherry pick outlandish views from both sides from the constant stream of opinion on social media. Whether it’s (alleged) CAMRA members deriding craft beer and those who support it, or others stereotyping all CAMRA members on the actions of a few, or claiming all real ale is brown and boring. Both extremes are misinformed, wrong and unrepresentative.

If you’re going to judge CAMRA as an organisation, judge us on the actions of the majority, not the actions of a selected few. Judge us on the actions of those charged with the responsibility for setting and delivering our strategy, not those with no accountability and access to a Twitter feed.

Judge us on the vast majority who, during the consultation, told us how they wanted CAMRA to change; on the more than 75% who voted for that change; or on the 73% who wanted to go further.

Decide what CAMRA stands for based on those members who approved motions to our Conference: to improve our diversity and equality; to tell those members who feel entitled to a discount  they are wrong to do so; and to give our festival organisers the flexibility to choose to offer other types of beer alongside real ale, cider and perry if they wish.

More importantly, our Articles of Association are simply a broad framework around which we can build strategy, policy and activities. Before you pass judgment on CAMRA wait and see what my colleagues and I on the National Executive decide to build on the framework.

Our main priority will still be to campaign for real ale, cider and perry, but we need to broaden our horizons and to listen and act on what our members want.  

The clear message from CAMRA’s eventful weekend is that the majority of our members accept the need for change, and CAMRA’s leadership have a taken notice of the majority views of our members. In an complex organisation of over 190,000 people, it may take time, but we will ensure CAMRA reflects those views.