AMID the smoke, chaos and confusion of battle, it is sometimes difficult to work out what is going on.
Historical accounts often use the phrase ‘accounts vary’. Yet every account I come across of this week’s explosive Tyneside and Northumberland branch CAMRA meeting seems to follow a similar path – proposals, arguments, refusals, resignations.
Cullercoats Brewery, along with Gundog and Northumberland, were excluded from the Newcastle Beer Festival despite space being available.
Owner Bill Scantlebury called for a vote that every brewer in the branch is included next year. Motion defeated. A website created by members in their own time. Does the branch want it? No thanks.
A CAMRA spokesman said: “The selection of the beers is down to the jurisdiction of the beer orderer – he has been appointed by the branch committee and we feel we cannot condemn him for the selection of beers for the festival.
“We felt the attitude of the breweries excluded made us less inclined even when there was an available slot.”
Bill said: “It’s baffling. CAMRA is about real ale and the lifeblood of real ale is breweries. I think the branch has really let us down. That’s the minimum support you’d expect from CAMRA.”
If the branch is not supporting all local breweries, I question what it is playing at. Clearly others do too, as some have resigned while others are considering their position.
Something had, to pardon the unintentional pun, been brewing for a while. This is not the first time the Tyneside and Northumberland branch has attracted criticism.
When it ran its awareness-raising Pub of the Year competition, I found myself delivering the good news when I phoned pubs for quotes – no one had told the winners.
It refuses to move forward with ideas such as keg conditioning. One landlord claimed he was refused CAMRA equipment for his beer festival. Most of all, I think giving Wetherspoon vouchers to new members is tantamount to a greengrocers’ association handing out Tesco coupons.
Why on earth is it doing something that could potentially damage our independent pubs?
CAMRA saved beer 40 years ago when lager giants threatened to destroy our brewing heritage. The thriving local industry now needs unconditional support as a minimum for festivals and against dangers such as rising prices and closures.
CAMRA should be working with, not dictating to, people for whom this is their livelihood. But Bill’s proposal was only defeated by two votes, so is change impossible?
With new direction, CAMRA has resources, recognition and ability, not to mention a campaigning history for which we should all be thankful. So only when attempts at change are truly exhausted should it be abandoned.
Some who have been banging their head against a brick wall for years will feel that point has already been reached. But the closeness of the vote gives cause for hope.
There are further options too, without creating radical rival organisations. There has already been talk of landlords working together under a common banner to hold their own citywide festival.
And without it turning into a formal organisation, it could hold regular events promoting good beer – providing many of the functions people would like to see from CAMRA, but without any bureaucracy.
So amid the smoke, chaos and confusion of battle, it’s worth checking whether the cause truly is lost.