Local social capital heading online?

'These days the buzz is all about flipping online interactions into real-world meetings'

Ever since the Internet entered the social consciousness there have been countless attempts to create online communities. The Well, for instance was an early San Francisco-based community started in 1985 which even inspired a few 'cyber universe' novels.

But these days the buzz is all about flipping online interactions into real-world meetings. Thus Meetup.com, Upcoming.com promote "meat space" (as the geeks call it) networking.

But attempts at taking the idea into the true mainstream of society, and particularly around the idea of your local neighbourhood, have had mixed results. The BBC Action Network, has (last time I looked) yet to ignite the political consciousness of the suburbs. UpMyStreet.com started well but is now more about checking your neighbours' house prices.

A recent addition to the pantheon of 'local' sites is MyNeighbourhoods.co.uk (nominated for an NMA award ) which allows you to lookup local information based on your postcode and contact local community members (so long as they too have signed up).

It's yet another valiant attempt to re-ignite the social capital we once had locally - and I mean pre-industrially - now that social mobility and the atomisation of the family means many of us rarely live in the same place for very long.

But there is a continuing problem with these ideas. Namely the existence of vertical niche online communities where people interact around one topic and then later on work out they are living closer to eachother.

At one end of the spectrum are sites like Mylocalbands.com, a US site which allows fans of a genre of pop music to find eachother on a Google map. Useful for all those sullen Emo fans stuck in Ohio who can't find eachother. In the UK we even now have a site for people who like taking pictures of their pet dog, Doggysnaps.com.

Socially networking with your neighbours online about a common interest - from music, to dogs, to whatever - seems closer to where all this is heading, as opposed to networking just because you happen to live near someone...

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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