Has the time come to call time on Camra?
PUBLISHED: 19:30 07 April 2016 | UPDATED: 08:01 08 April 2016
For 45 years, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has been flying the flag for the UK's traditional ales.
But is it about to become a victim of its own success?
The organisation itself seems to think this might be the case, and it is now consulting its 177,000 members across the country to try to work out exactly what its role should be in a world of craft beers, micro-breweries and brew-pubs.
One thing is for sure: when four blokes set up Camra in 1971, it was desperately needed. Back then, just six big companies produced 80pc of the country’s beer, and there were only 135 breweries in the whole country. It is a measure of the beer revival that there are now more than 40 in Norfolk alone, and more than 1,500 across the UK.
If ever a campaign group could be said to have achieved its aim, then it’s Camra.
The problem with this, of course, is that the very point of its existence has largely disappeared.
Sales of “craft beer” are flourishing, almost every pub has real ale on tap and a new breed of brew-pubs is offering a massive choice to the discerning drinker.
So has the time come to ring last orders for this august group?
Critics of Camra – and there have been many – have often accused the organisation of being reactionary, of harking back to a past which can never exist again.
While many supported the core message that we needed to preserve our tradition of properly brewed beer, too many drinkers, especially women, were alienated by a dogma which said that pubs should be basic, uncomfortable places which made no concessions to modern consumer tastes.
Thankfully, Camra has realised the time has come to reinvent itself.
Last week it launched a huge consultation exercise to ask its members what it should represent in the future, with one idea, voiced by one of those four founders, Michael Hardman, being that the organisation should concentrate on representing all pub-goers, regardless of what they choose to drink.
We should applaud this open-minded – if rather belated – attitude to Camra’s existential crisis.
The campaign has undoubtedly done some sterling work in the past, and can claim to have at least played a part in laying the foundation for the beer revival that we are enjoying today.
But there are other battles to fight now.
One key issue is the rate at which pubs continue to close – 27 every week according to Camra’s own research.
It could do worse than try to work out why we have fallen out of love with our pubs.
We certainly shouldn’t try to preserve the boozer in aspic when quite clearly popular tastes have changed so much.
Like in so many areas, the best will continue to thrive and survive.
The pubs and bars which listen to what their customers want, and which are willing to adapt accordingly, will prosper, while those which take the attitude – far too common among Camra campaigners in the past – that we shouldn’t change anything, will wither and die.
I’m not entirely convinced about what groups like Camra can do about that, though.
While they have been able to influence policy and appeal to hearts and minds about the threat to a great British tradition, convincing businesses to modernise and adapt is an altogether different challenge, and perhaps not one for a group of well-meaning enthusiasts.
I hope Camra members find a reason for the organisation to continue to exist.
But if it can’t find a genuine, useful and realistic role, then it might just be the moment to call time on what has been a very successful campaign, and raise a glass to everything it has achieved.
•The views above are those of Andy Newman