Secondly, how branches select their entries is left to them. In our Branch, all members are invited to nominate possible entries by the autumn. This gives us a "long list" of around 45-50 pubs. Final voting is in early January so active members then try to visit as many of the nominated pubs as they can. At the voting meeting, members are given a ballot form listing the pubs with two columns next to them. In the first column you indicate if you've been to the pub in the previous six months. In the second you indicate if you feel it should be in the GBG (but you can only vote if you've also ticked column one).
As a result each pub will have two scores - number of people who visited and number of people voting for it. One is divided into the other to give the final score. So, if 10 people have visited and 10 vote for it, the score is 100%. If 10 people visit but only 5 vote for it, the score is 50%. The 26 pubs getting the highest score go forward.
The system works best of course if lots of people visit lots of pubs and then vote. Sadly, like most CAMRA branches, the number of activists is a small percentage of the total membership. Additionally, many active members are Cambridge-based and find it difficult to get to the more rural pubs which consequently often receive fewer visits and votes. This can work in a pub's favour (if only two people visit but both like it, there's a score of 100%) but can also lead to some volatile scoring. In the 2006 Guide voting, The Longbow had been visited by five people but only three of them gave it a positive vote and the consequent score of 66% wasn't enough to put it in the top 26.
The mystery of course is why two people would vote against such an excellent pub. The ballot is a secret one and nobody has admitted to being amongst the two. And, in a democracy, you're not required to justify how you vote. Nonetheless, it left some of us wondering if there might be a better method of selection - and if anyone out there has any ideas, please let the editor know.
The voting for the 2007 Guide has now taken place and, I'm pleased to say, The Longbow is back in. However, another pub which I'd personally regard as an automatic entry didn't make it.
Whatever method we use, the more people who participate, the more accurate and credible the results are likely to be. So, if you're a non-active CAMRA member, please try to get involved. You can vote by post or the Branch Web site if you can't make the selection meeting and you can nominate pubs at any time - just tell the Editor or e-mail email@example.com. There's also a form in the Good Beer Guide.