We MEPs represent much larger constituencies than MPs. There are two Labour MEPs — and four from other parties — who cover the whole of Yorkshire & Humber, with its 5.4 million people. I get around a lot, but it’s not possible to visit every single town and village in the region every month! (Fun fact: If I were to dedicate my entire term in office to meeting every single constituent, I’d have to average one every 20 seconds, non-stop for every waking hour, seven days a week, for the full five years of my mandate!)
So, MEPs, like US Congressmen, have to find better ways to communicate and interact with large numbers of people. And I’ve always been happy to try out new ways of doing so.
More than a decade ago, I was the first MEP to write a blog about my work. I also put a lot of effort into my website — its early incarnation back in 2004 was nominated for a New Statesman New Media award, and I continue to develop it today, with as much information as I can muster on issues in European politics. With the advent of social media, I’ve also tried to make good use of that: I personally use Twitter regularly, and reach an even wider audience via my increasingly popular Facebook page.
But the ways people communicate are always moving on. Just one year ago, I decided to launch an app for smartphones and tablets called Doorstep EU. As well as providing a convenient way to read my briefings on key issues and mythbusters, I also wanted to use the app to provide timely background and analysis behind the daily headlines in the British media. This kind of very rapid dissemination of information is something that’s only become possible in recent years through mobile devices, but it was something I was keen to try as a way of reducing the perceived distance between Brussels and Yorkshire (not to mention providing an antidote to some of the more skewed claims in our national press!).
I had no idea, when I launched Doorstep EU on iOS and Android, quite how successful it would be. Although it’s entirely focused on British EU issues, the app now has thousands of active users across many different countries, from Australia to Zimbabwe. And with many more people taking an interest in European affairs, the user base has steadily grown month by month, now including a large number of journalists, politicians and academics, as well as the people I’m keenest of all to reach — the residents of my own constituency.
Twelve months on, I’ve continued to develop the app with new content (I recently added detailed statistics about the impact of the EU on each UK region) and new features (you can now share content directly via email and social media). As debates on Europe intensify, I expect it will inevitably become even more widely used.
If you haven’t downloaded Doorstep EU to your mobile device yet — why not?