Thursday 13 December 2012

Mass Lobby against Beer Tax Escalator

Yesterday I went to London to lobby my MP along with over 1000 other CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) members.  We were campaigning against the Beer Tax Escalator, a system whereby tax on beer goes up every year by 2% over inflation.  You would think that in 20 years of being a CAMRA member I'd have done my share of campaigning, but yesterday topped it all. 

It was a long, but satisfying day.  We set off from Cudworth at 6:30am to collect two other local Barnsley members, PG from Great Houghton and EG from Wombwell.  The OH got us to the Dodworth junction of the MI in plenty of time for the coach pick up at 7:25am.  Thanks to Wakefield branch of CAMRA for organising the coach, they also collected some Leeds and Dewsbury members before us, about 20 of us on the bus in all. 

A bus full of CAMRA members on the way to the Mass Lobby (thanks to Wakefield CAMRA for this photo)
We drove through the darkness down the MI with just one comfort stop at Watford Gap.  It was getting close to 12 noon when we hit London's traffic and we were delayed arriving at the Emmanuel Centre, CAMRA's lobby hub for the day.  Two of our group were booked to see Ed Balls MP at 12:30 - they didn't quite make it on time but he did arrange to see them later (good for him!) and they spent the intervening hour and a half watching the debates in the House of Commons from the public gallery. 

The rest of our group had to check in with the CAMRA organisers and receive our briefing notes, identification badge and instructions on where to go next.  Tea and biscuits were available, but no beer yet!

We had booked a meeting with the Barnsley East MP, Michael Dugher at 2pm so we had a little while to wait.  The time flew by, however, with lots of people we knew from the Great British Beer Festival and other CAMRA activities in the hall to greet enthusiastically (and usually hug).  You make a lot of good friends in CAMRA, the sort where it doesn't matter if you only see them once or twice a year, it's as if you had just been speaking to them, and of course these days many of us do keep in touch through Facebook - it's not just for young people!

We were recommended to set out for for Parliament with a good hour to spare before our meeting, because of security and queueing time.  There was a trail of yellow clad CAMRA stewards between the Emmanuel Centre and the Houses of Parliament, so no chance of getting lost, and we passed Ed Balls MP and Greg Mulholland MP walking in the other direction.

CAMRA stewards outside the Houses of Parliament (from Flickr)
The queue was long, but moved steadily.  The security was as we had been told, airport style with bag searches, scanners and arches to walk through.  The OH's lock pick (he uses it for work!) was taken from him, but he was given a receipt to collect it on the way out.

The OH was in close phone communication with Michael Dugher's PA, a young man called Josh, who met us in the Central Lobby.  This is where anyone can come to request a meeting with their MP by filling in a green card.  A fellow CAMRA member from Sheffield, DW, hadn't been able to pre-arrange a meeting with his MP Nick Clegg, but he attended and filled out a green card just to make the point.  He waited in the Central Lobby for hours, and not in vain, because although Mr Clegg wasn't able to see him on the day he has promised DW a meeting in the New Year to discuss the Beer Tax Escalator. 

Michael Dugher collected us from Josh and took us to the Labour Chief Whip's office which he had 'borrowed' to have his meeting with us.  He chatted with us for over half an hour and promised to encourage the government to review the Beer Tax Escalator.  You can see his notes on our meeting at his website (you need to scroll down or search for the item "Michael meets with Barnsley CAMRA members taking part in lobby of Parliament").  He was also keen on the community role of pubs, maintaining jobs in pubs and the brewery industry and the place of pubs in educating people in responsible drinking.  Rosie Winterton, the Chief Whip, arrived just as we were leaving, she'd been meeting with some of her CAMRA constituents from Doncaster, who had left her a copy of their Donny Drinker magazine.

Michael then took us to the famous 'Stranger's Bar' for a real ale.  He has recommended Acorn Brewery's Yorkshire Pride beer to the bar, but apparently there is a long waiting list, so we had some North Riding Bitter. 

The Stranger's Bar in the Houses of Parliament
We then stepped outside onto the terrace for a few photos and a further chat whilst we drank our very pleasant beer.  Poor Michael had to have a soft drink as he was in meetings for the rest of the day.

Michael Dugher MP and 4 Barnsley CAMRA members on the Terrace at the Houses of Parliament
We were escorted back to the Central Lobby by Michael who had been very friendly throughout our meeting.  The member from Sheffield, DW, was still waiting patiently for his MP!

On the way back through the building towards the exit I was tempted by the 'little shop', it had fridge magnets and pencils and all the usual gifty tut, but the OH helped me resist.  He went to collect his lock pick and then we made our way back to the Emmanuel Centre.  In return for our filled in feedback forms we were given a free pint of beer each.  Once everyone had made it back from the Houses of Parliament there were speeches from the Chairman of CAMRA, Colin Valentine, Mike Benner CEO of CAMRA, several MPs including Greg Mulholland and Andrew Griffiths and a representative from brewers and one from publicans. 

Colin Valentine - Chair of CAMRA
The meeting closed at around 5pm, there was enough beer left for all of us who had stayed for the speeches to have another pint and then we were asked to clear the building by 6pm.  I was a bit concerned for my steward friends who had been on duty all day without drinking, I do hope they managed to get a beer afterwards.

We boarded our coach just after 6pm for the trip back to Yorkshire.  It was 11pm by the time we reached the Dodworth Junction and I was very glad to see the car was still where we left it!  The OH had been careful with the beer he had drunk as he had to drive PG and EG home before getting us back to Cudworth at about 11:45pm.

Whilst having supper we scanned through the day's TV on BBC iplayer and found a segment on the Daily Politics programme with Mike Benner speaking outside Parliament backed by the pub signs we had seen on the stage at the Emmanuel Centre.   

And then to bed ... needless to say we got up late this morning!


Robyn said...

Everything I'm seeing on this just indicates that it all went really well! Would so have loved to be there, but simply couldn't afford the day off - December is already tight for me with Christmas...had it been next month! xx

BarnsleyHistorian said...

It did seem to go very well. Generally MPs and others at the Houses of Parliament (aides, security etc) seemed impressed at the good planning and organisation. We were told we had been the largest lobby ever.

Nige said...

This day has marked as one of the best days for me in 2012 and as a CAMRA member for 27 years has marked as probably the best day in my campaigning years, I felt I was doing something. Signing a petition is one thing but having a face to face chat with your MP about big campaigning issues feels much better. Let’s do more of this.
Let’s roll some barrels and drink some beer in the name of campaigning, not drink tea and send an email…