The CAMRA campaign has been a great British campaign success story. When it comes to fulfilling the goal and meaning of your group’s name and purpose, it is a bit difficult to think of a group as successful. I had the pleasure of recently attending the Rotherham Real Ale and Music Festival, a beer festival associated with CAMRA which also raised funds for the Rotherham Cancer Care Centre.
These festivals, along with our locals, highlight how well ingrained real ale is within modern Britain, with drinkers ranging from pensioners and ex-miners through to university students. The Real Ale culture is definitely alive and well across the whole nation.
One of CAMRA’s recent parliamentary events highlighted the technicalities surrounding the rate of beer duty. Members were even provided with a 2019 paper from Europe Economics which modelled the impacts of a reduction in draught beer duty. But CAMRA’s wider work, including one of its other key aims of focusing on supporting the continued operation and new openings of pubs, is just as important.
CAMRA recognises this by stating their aim as “To promote and protect pubs and clubs as social centres as part of the UK's cultural heritage”. This is where raw economics has to give way, and as Conservatives we should always be willing to recognise the value of our institutional heritage in a fashion beyond that of Gross Value Added or Aggregate Business Rate Receipts.
Indeed, while the discussion of the economics and financials landlords and ladies face when running a pub is clearly critical, we perhaps sometimes forget the social and cultural role our locals play as social institutions. CAMRA, “Long Live the Local” and others do highlight this community element of pubs.
This is why it is important for a party which supports strong and integral institutions - ranging from the family at the personal end through to national institutions such as the courts and the Crown - must recognise the value of the Great British Pub as an institution of great national character.
The pub can help tackle social isolation, particularly where smaller communities may only have a church or a village hall besides a local pub. In these communities their pub becomes their meeting point, the pub becomes a means of tackling social isolation, the pub becomes a music or quiz night venue, the pub becomes their community’s social hub. Their community’s social institution. A pub truly is a public house, open and welcoming to all.
In an era where many members of many communities feel more detached from one another, more disengaged and mistrusting of one another, the pub can break those barriers down. In my own constituency of Rother Valley, residents have used their local pubs to meet and discuss serious local political challenges. Whether this be campaign groups planning their next actions on local issues such as the environment or concerned residents meeting together to discuss planning applications, the Great British Pub can be a site of cultural and political action.
All this, while outside the oversight of some state or centralised institution. The building might be regulated, the beer might be regulated, the business might be registered, but the discussions, the events, the character, the people are there out of choice and act in their own self-regulated way, under the umbrella of their landlord. This institution doesn’t need any active intervention from the state to promote social wellbeing and engagement, no local council plan can cut out and replace the character and heritage of a pub.
The Great British Pub stands as an institution apart from the state, doing more for their communities than any bureaucrat in Whitehall could probably ever understand.
So, compared to our other regularly cited great institutions of the courts, or our universities, this institution isn’t intertwined with or dependent on the state.
Therefore, when we as Conservatives look to the pub, we should consider it not as simply just a business whose bottom lines need to add up but, as CAMRA state, as social centres, as part of the UK's cultural heritage.
Cheers, here’s to the Great British Pub, what a civil servant can never be.
Alexander Stafford, Conservative MP for Rother Valley