Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Big Society - A Fishy Tale

Hi I'm Simon, a life form living on a reef in the future of a parallel universe. I'm also the author of this fishy story about The Big Society.  Just between you and me, I'm in lots of fishy debt to the Sturgeon Loan Company and I'm very much priced out of even the cheapest and most densely packed coral home locations. As it turned out though, these are small fry problems compared to some fish, fish whose lives are about to be battered and this could turn out to be any Tom, Jack or Marlin. So for their hake, I thought I'd re-tell this cautionary story about a coral reef's Prime Fish.

Before I get into the depths of this story, first, let me set the scene: The setting in which our story begins is a big and populous reef, a small distance across the seabed from the reef where I currently reside. The big reef had been a home to fish for a long time since it first grew. Its fish over time were involved in many events of ocean history, and at the time where we begin our fishy tale, it is a well know reef with a lot of influence around the ocean. Generally there are many pleasant parts of the reef, nice and safe in the shallow waters of sea, tides aren't too strong and the flow of nutrients can easily be harnessed.

Sadly though, the reef has always had a more troubled side; since the early days when the fish population really increased, there have always been those edges of the reef, densely populated parts, where the most fish live, where poverty still lingers and crime is easy to find. Here, a gathering of small fish are led by bigger fishes who can use their time and effort to gain prestige and more fishy money, it's a fish eat fish world. As gloomy as that picture sounds, things aren't always that terrible on the edge, in fact many fish choose to live there for its mix of fish, culture and excitement, however, fish society is a little more tense on this part of the coral, especially amongst the smaller fish with less fishy money. It is a sad fact that some fishes on the reef are very vulnerable but in general the big fish society at this point held out a helping fin funded largely through reef tax and volunteer fish.

So with that in mind for a few moments before our fishy minds forget, let me begin...

One day the fishy reef had a problem. Some of the biggest fish around the oceans had allowed sandbanks to lend to sub-prime small fish in some of the biggest reefs, their greed and poor judgement had led to a lot of bad debt and in turn a distribution of fishy money that the big fish on other reefs didn't want to trouble themselves with, it just wasn't profitable, it was some other fish's problem. It left the governing fish of many reefs needing to take action or have their reefy economies collapse on the humpback of what  became known as the sandbank crisis.

The sandbanks couldn't be allowed to collapse. “They are too big to fail” the big fish of the reef had told their investors in the past, the big fish were clever. There comments were true but only true because without them, fish society would collapse, they had taken the trust of a reef and profited from it. The reefs around the world couldn't hold individual big fish to account, after all, they had been so helpful in lending to the reefs in the past and employed many fish too. So it was decided that the debt would be passed on to the fish-public, the every day Jack and Dori would take on the big fish debts because they couldn't disagree or say no, that would have involved too much churning up in the surf for a reef of this stature.

The outgoing Prime Fish of the day hadn't done anything to stem the Sandbanks Crisis. The motions which set this wave of destruction towards the reef spanned back to much earlier Prime Fish, it was just encouraged since then because life for a lot of fish on the reef had improved from it. You see, the reef is a democracy and this is a good thing but in this democracy not everything is conducted in a democratic manner. Although it may have seemed like the smaller fish supported what the bigger fish were doing, in reality the smaller fish had little choice. Only 3 Prime Fish from similar breeding grounds were available for selection. Small fish were not excluded from the process, but as we will find out, in this underwater world, only the fish with the means were able to do anything. Sure, even if a smaller fish could make it to a position of power, they'd be part of the reef system and unable to rearrange any meaningful without exposing the reef to the rest of the sea and be at its mercy. This was always going to happen since the first big fish set the reef on it's path to trouble.

Reef pollocktics became rather important at the time when the sandbanks were collapsing, it just so happened to be a time when the reef's population had to select a new Prime Fish.

As I mentioned, each leader of their fishy parties was a cleaner fish but there were some who cared for the bigger fish of the sea more than others and some who alleged to care for the smaller fish of the reef more than others. However, it always turned out that the cleaner fish liked to help the bigger fish than them, it was just their nature. Without the big fish and sharks who would fund the required bait for their fishselection campaigns? Indeed, it seems unlikely that some of the cleaner fish would be in a position to be fishselected without their bigger fish support.

In the fishselection that year, not one Prime Fish was picked, the fish of the reef could not choose a  ruling fish-party because not one had enough support from the small fish. Fish opinion was as split as the corpse of a clam. There were of course procedures in plaice for such a scenario and so the Royal Fish let two parties agree a compromise of a coalition government then gave their blessing on the small fishes behalf to the main cleaner fish of the new shoal. A blessing granted to them from Poseidon himself, the ocean god not all fish believed existed, never the less, a new prime fish had been hooked.

The Prime Fish leading this coalition shoal was to be a fish who didn't care much for the smaller fish compared to others. He didn't understand why so many small fish became problem fish, but then why would he, being a cleaner fish he was privileged from birth and have never lived amongst the most disadvantaged fish of the reef. The new Prime Fish was of course from the pollocktical party of fish who like helping the bigger fish stay healthy and aren't so concerned as other parties about looking out for the smaller fish even though they depend on them to maintain their lofty positions - and possessions - on the reef.

In the last fishselection it was largely the areas where reef life is already good that voted for this particular cleaner fish. The majority of the reefs population (the smaller fish who were earning the least fishy money in the most densely populated areas of the reef) either didn't vote in the fishselection or voted for a different party to that of our prime fish. Unfortunately the system was such that their votes didn't matter so much. The reef's fishselection process had led to so many disillusioned fish that they just didn't care any more, what did their vote really make any difference to? The reef was in a pickle that most knew it didn't want to be in but as they say underwater, “every air bubble has a silver lining”, in this case, at least the reef now had a Prime Fish to lead the way.

The biggest issue after the fishselection was still the sandbank problem. In order to resolve the immediate damage to the sandbanks, the prime fish shored up the sandbanks by redirecting the fish-public re-reefing funds. When the time came, the Prime Fish handed over a fortune to the big fish and Sharks of the sea as quickly as he could. This bail-out was done even against the advice of other cleaner fish but the Prime Fish was egged on by the big fish and Sharks waiting to take advantage and didn't disappoint them. Oddly enough, these were the same big fish and Sharks who very much helped in the collapse of the sandbanks in the first place - he told the smaller fish "My fins are tied".

This particular reef wasn't the only reef to experience this, there were many such reefs over the ocean. Some with more problems than others. The small fish were not happy, but they couldn't do anything about it. They could only sit back and see what little they had reduce whilst somehow the big fish (who still managed the Sandbanks that the small fish had been forced to help shore up) were still syphoning profits to the big fish. It was not fair, but life on the reef had never been fair. Why should the prime fish try to change this?

Never fear though, the prime fish (a former PR fish, brilliant in the art of convincing other big fish to swim his way) came up with the next stage of a plan, a plan that was said to be key to helping the reef to resolve both its financial and social issues. Initially it was a big surprise to the reef when the Prime Fish pushed his idea forward. In order to bring some re-reef to the fishy society, his plan was going to promote what he called 'The Big Society', an idea that would help the small fish help themselves - the small fish wondered if this was too good to be true or indeed if the catch was going to be in the detail.

...To Be Continued


  1. Were those illustrations done on Ms paint?!?

    They are seriously awesome if they are!
    Good job :)

  2. Thanks Tara, yeah, all were made in MS Paint - Time consuming but it has to be said that there is something therapeutic about putting pixels on pixels :)



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