From Protest to Policy: CAMRA, the Tories and the Great British Beer Festival
Wednesday, 28 February 2024 19:09

From Protest to Policy: CAMRA, the Tories and the Great British Beer Festival

Published in Eating & Drinking

The Campaign for Real Ale’s Great British Beer Festival took place at Olympia from 1st to the 5th August. It’s back to full strength after the pandemic period, showcasing hundreds of draught beers and welcoming thousands of visitors. Despite the name it’s not a flag-waving event. Its focus is on British real beer – cask and keykeg. However there are also bars with draught beers from the USA and Europe. The range of beers is vast from traditional bitters to IPAs, stouts and sours.

It usually gets media publicity which features large men with beards drinking pints of beer. I paid a visit this year as usual and was pleased to note that the attendance was considerably more diverse in terms of age, ethnicity and gender than it used to be. In part that is a tribute to the work of CAMRA in consciously promoting good beer across a much wider range of people.

There was controversy however when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pitched up at the trade session on Tuesday afternoon. This is open to brewers, publicans and those involved in the drink trade.

Traditionally brewers and the drink trade have been Tories. The Beerage reflected historically the political influence brewers had in the Tory Party, and these days the CEOs of big brewing names like Marstons and Greene King have donated money to the Tories. Moreover, while CAMRA has perhaps a socially liberal image dating back to its 1970s origins as a protest group, the Liberals were the party of temperance. Labour was and perhaps still is divided on the issue

The Tory Party in 2023 is not great in terms of the knowledge of its own history. So while Rishi Sunak may have thought the drinks trade is sympathetic, personally he is a teetotaller who reportedly doesn’t like the taste of alcohol-free beer either. His appearance at the GBBF was not however to promote beer but to talk about the new alcohol duty rates that came in on the 1st August. It is reportedly the biggest shake-up in duty since the nineteenth century.

In respect of beer there is a lower tax rate on draught beer sold in pubs. The idea is to encourage people to drink socially rather than at home with beer from the supermarket. Beer which has 3.4% alcohol or lower now has lower tax. The Government says that this is to encourage people to drink lower strength beers on health grounds. There are indeed some excellent beers at this strength, a table beer from Kernel the Bermondsey craft brewer for example. In addition beers above 8.5% will face a higher duty rate which will mean some imperial stouts and double IPAs will cost more.

Sunak claimed all this as a Brexit benefit. Technically this may be correct. Outside the EU Britain is freer to change duty on things like wine and whisky. The changes do this by putting the prices up. The benefit here is not to the drinker but to the Exchequer. So as with most things the Government does the changes to benefit its mates, the largest regional brewers who still support the Tories in some cases, while others lose out.

Sunak was jeered and heckled on Tuesday at the GBBF again – by brewers and publicans, not members of the public. The issue discussed on social media and in bars was whether CAMRA was right to invite Sunak at all. He is after all the leader of a deeply unpopular Government and his appearance at Olympia to claim that the duty prices would mean a cheaper pint was a lie.

It wasn’t really a good look for CAMRA. It’s a mature social movement and theory on the subject underlines that over time activists get diverted from protests and lobbies into the structures of Government where they can push for minor changes and policy tweaks.

It’s a move from protest to policy, but it should be underlined that the work of CAMRA has seen important safeguards and improvements for drinkers over the years. It’s a model consumer campaign, democratically run by drinkers, where policy is decided at annual members’ conference (there are around 180,000 members) not by producers. Particularly in the time of a cost of living crisis, it’s a model that could and should work elsewhere.

CAMRA social media promoted Sunak’s visit and it didn’t go down well. It’s true that away from the media glare CAMRA activists, some brewers and representatives from SIBA (the small independent brewers society) did lobby Sunak on key issues like energy prices and the cost of living and the need to take action to help pubs.

During the week CAMRA took to TwitterX to argue that more was needed from Sunak. Even so the decision to invite Sunak left a sour taste in the mouths of many drinkers and reminded that like many social movements revitalisation at the grassroots is essential to avoid the campaign becoming too entangled in the work of a Tory Government.

Why not join CAMRA, and help develop its politically progressive campaigns? See here - it costs from £30.50 a year. There are lots of benefits and discounts but the real value is being part of a collective consumer campaign for better beer.

Meet Your New Leader
Wednesday, 28 February 2024 19:09

Meet Your New Leader

Published in Poetry

Meet Your New Leader

by Kevin Higgins, with images by Mick O'Dell

When a boy, his mother used to
prop him on the ironing board
and steam out the creases.
Since he was about five
he's been the adult in the room
coming up with solutions
the gods of the Market will like.
He arrived with a birthmark
which, under a magnifying glass,
appears to read
Head Prefect.

He'll be more efficient
than the previous occupant
at reducing the indigent
to ribcages which will act
as a necessary warning to others;
is the sort theatre aficionados
who enjoy browsing articles
about poverty on free Sundays
can imagine sitting beside
at a dinner party and being surprised,
he's actually quite familiar
with the dramas of Ibsen and being
beyond impressed to find themselves
in the presence of as icy and expensive
an intellect as this.

Rishi Sunak 2

The Fifth Horseman
Wednesday, 28 February 2024 19:09

The Fifth Horseman

Published in Poetry

The Fifth Horseman

by Christopher Norris

Fifth Horseman, that’s the job for me,
The one they sent ahead
To speed catastrophe and see
All living creatures dead.

The Bible said ‘These things shall be;
Await God’s wrath with dread’,
But my old stable-mates agree:
Let’s speed things up instead!

We’ve Earthly allies on a spree,
All looking sharp to spread
The message: help yourselves, feel free,
Let queasy qualms be shed!

It’s growing hedge-funds, that’s the key,
Not all that daily-bread
Stuff they despise, the powers-that-be,
So long as they’re well-fed.

We’ve paid the lawyer-crooks their fee,
All tucked up tight in bed
With ministers who tell them: ‘We
Have documents to shred’.

We’ve got the top politicos
All stashing cash galore
From oil tycoons and CEOs
With bank accounts offshore.

We’ve got MPs whose fortune grows
On every trading-floor
With yet more juicy deals to close
Once through the revolving door.

We’ve got the tabloid hacks we chose
To wage our covert war
On anyone who dared oppose
The might of Fracking Corp.

We’ve got a government that knows
The stuff we’re looking for,
Like making sure the money flows
To stinking-rich, not poor.

And then we’ve got what really shows
We know the Doomsday score:
Our trusty bunch who’ll hold their nose
Whatever shit’s in store.

But most importantly we’ve got
That Liz Truss well onside:
She talks green but she’s told our lot
Don’t fret – tax-breaks supplied!

She’ll slash those taxes on the dot,
Consult the Frackers’ Guide,
And tell the plebs: ‘You’re feeling hot?
Just eat your chips deep-fried’.

She’ll stop all that ‘green levy’ rot,
She’ll spread the message wide:
Keep filling the old money-pot
And stretch the wealth-divide!

She’ll give the paupers diddly-squat
Except to feel the slide
From pauperdom to their last spot
Of shade: no place to hide.

Fires, floods and famine on the trot –
That’s what our team provide,
And she’s the one to see it’s not
Apocalypse we’re denied.

No copy-book our Liz won’t blot,
No lie she won’t abide
To give Doomsday a booster-shot
And see us horsemen ride.

Please Be Advised
Wednesday, 28 February 2024 19:09

Please Be Advised

Published in Poetry

Please Be Advised

by Helen Bovaird Ryan

I’d just like to start this morning by welcoming you one and all
To this wonderful institution Our government, many thanks for making the call
to join our brigade of stalwarts, you’ve now boarded the Boris-Rishi-Liz Bus,
you’ve made the grade, you’re vetted, you’re now officially one of us.

So that’s all very lovely and charming, but I feel it would be remiss
not to give you each fair warning - this job comes with perks but also risks
It’s a place of plenty, huge opportunity but also many pitfalls
So I’d like to begin by explaining we’ve created a brand new protocol

Please open the booklets in your folders. It’s so boring I won’t read it all
But I expect you to glance at the contents, before shredding it. Your call.
A. Ensure you’ve completely covered your back
B. Never leave yourself exposed, make sure to tighten any slack
C. Don’t give a single glimpse into life at Number Ten,
you’ll soon discover its very walls listen.

So if you put those principles at the top of your new list
You’ll avoid placing the government in the path of possible risk
And of course, my dear friends, that is our ultimate goal here
to hold power ad infinitum, that’s a given, never fear.

Moving on, there’s the thorny issue of dealing with THE PRESS
And here, I think you’ll find we’ve established good redress
If you look at your handout - please turn to page 95
There’s a list of handy phrases that I’ll ask you to memorise

....LOOK AT OUR TRACK RECORD.... and so on and so forth,

you get the picture, don’t you? The press just can’t handle the truth.

The way to get the job done, is to avoid answers as above. Like I say
the press will be quite happy to defer and go away.
The key thing to remember is they’re constrained by small time-bites
So stall, fob them off with cliches. They’ll smile in polite delight.

Okay there you have it, I wish you well my friends,
there’s a party soon in room 101, I expect you to attend.
If you follow all my guidelines, let me assure each one of you
Number Ten will be your perfect home till 2052.