I've been wondering about this for some time.
RedNev writes here that beer festivals, and especially CAMRA ones, are entering a new age of commerciality what with their charging a £7 entry fee and going to online ticket selling. While this begs the question what the funds raised by this, and more to the point any surplus after venue fees and beer cost, go towards, I've been asking myself recently : What is CAMRA FOR in 2013.
The 1970s battle has been won. Real Ale has been saved, and there are now hundred of breweries in the UK making it; <checks watch> possibly even thousands by now. Though certain CAMRA branches (mine included) still believe big brewers want to rip out all the handpumps and make us all drink Watney's Red Barrel again, I don't think this will happen somehow.
In my experience, there is a certain suspicion amongst licensees about CAMRA's members' motives. In another town (and another branch), one landlord said to me "Oh, you're in CAMRA, are you?", and tried to get me to vote for his pub at the next committee meeting. "The bastards only vote for <pub name removed>, as they give them the biggest discount.", he complained. I didn't have the heart to tell him that even if I did have any influence with the Beard Club, I certainly didn't have any round here. I was told similar things by other landlords in the same town, such as "They whinge about pub closing, but all they want is money off their next pint."
It could be that, for the vast majority of members, the discount is the main reason for joining CAMRA. What percentage of the membership is involved in actual "campaigning", rather than thinking of it as a money-off club with a free quarterly magazine? My guess is in single figures. CAMRA publicity material flaunts its 150,000 strong cohort, but usually only uses it as a tool to gain influence. "Look at how many of us there are supporting real ale", it seems to say, despite the fact that few of them do more than simply buying it.
Maybe CAMRA should change its emphasis to supporting the suffering pub trade, or providing a voice against the increasing demonisation of public alcohol consumption. If it doesn't find a distinct role, it could become an increasing irrelevance, populated by a silent membership whose sole reason for joining is the Wetherspoons tokens.