There’s no need to fear automation – not if we apply these reforms

Automation doesn’t need to be something to fear. Instead it should be something to welcome and develop, offering the opportunity for more interesting work, increased leisure, and easier interpersonal connections and communication.

But alarmist stories abound of an ominous robot takeover (though I, for one, welcome the suggestion that they’ll be capable of assembling flat pack furniture). Despite this, parliamentarians have seemed surprisingly uninterested in digging deeper into the broader implications of automation beyond the immediate. Beyond large-scale pieces of work like Tom Watson’s future of work commission and the Fabian Society’s commission on automation, most parliamentarians are apparently taking little notice of the automation phenomenon. A quick glance at the number of Written Parliamentary Questions referencing either ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘automation’ shows that we’ve asked a meagre 90 since June 2014 (even ‘beer’ manages to do better than that, with 113 references over the same time period).

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Labour is the true party of small business

Labour is the true party of small business. It’s been clear for the last eight years that the Tories are on the side of the biggest corporations, not the small businesses that are the lifeblood of the British economy. In government, the Tories allowed Carillion to grow into a racket that threatened small businesses across the country when it finally ran out of track.


Today, research published by the Federation of Small Businesses shows how damaging late payment practices can be for small firms. One in three firms are paid late, and over a third have seen agreed payment terms lengthening over the past two years. Companies are supposed to pay within thirty days, but in Carillion’s case, it was 120 by the time the company went bust. If people cannot get away with paying their mortgage or their rent 120 days late, then large companies that support jobs up the supply chain shouldn’t either.

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Snoek signals: May must learn from history or face a fishy fate

There is a story about how tins of fish nearly derailed Clement Attlee’s government.

The war had been won, but rationing and austerity were far from finished, and the government decided to substitute an odd looking and foul tasting South African fish, snoek, for the sardines that Brits were used to. Officials soon discovered, however, that changing the British diet was not as simple as that. The humble snoek was soon dispatched to cat food bowls across the land.

May is putting party before country because she’s too chicken to lead. Instead, she delays legislation simply in order to avoid a defeat by her backbenchers. Moreover, the government rejected sensible amendments in committee. Its progress halted by legislative border guards, our trade policy is rotting in transit.

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Britain’s problem is not too many robots – it’s too few

Harry Bridges was the legendary president of the American dockers' union who won his spurs organising through the bloody strike of 1934. But it was the mechanisation revolution of the Sixties that really put him to the test. Bridges knew he couldn't turn back the tide. So he set out a different question: how to win for his members “a piece of the machine”. The challenge, said Bridges, was how to get the machines working for the workers and not against them.

That question – the “Bridges test” – is once again the challenge for progressives as we face the future of work.

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Fir things first: A route to truly sustainable biomass

The escalating trade war between the US and China threatens to sweep the UK up in its wake. In spiralling reprisals these competing global powers have produced long lists of products which could face import tariffs.

Being the world's largest exporter, one product the US will try to avoid duties on is wood pellets. The prime importer of this commodity is the UK, followed some way behind by Denmark, South Korea, and Belgium. Most of these pellets are then burnt in biomass power plants like the Drax power station in Yorkshire, not far from my constituency of Leeds North West.

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Seni’s law is a major step towards ensuring mental health patients are treated with care and compassion

Seni Lewis, 23, lived with his parents in Thornton Heath. He was fit, healthy and, having recently graduated from university, had a bright future ahead. His parents found him one Sunday morning in a very agitated state which they quickly recognised as mental ill health.

Deeply worried, Seni’s parents took him to the local hospital and he was later transferred to a mental health hospital. They stayed with him until the evening and then went home.   

After his parents left, Seni became very anxious and tried to leave. He resisted attempts by hospital staff to restrain him and they called the police. Eleven police officers took Seni into a seclusion unit with his arms handcuffed behind his head, his legs in shackles, and pinned him face-down on the floor until he suffered a heart attack and became unconscious. Shortly afterwards, Seni died.

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Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are right – we need radical action to tackle childhood obesity

This August marks two years since the world’s first childhood obesity plan was published here in the UK. However, it did not receive the attention and celebration you would expect for a ground-breaking strategy. It was published in the middle of summer recess, during the Olympics and on A-level results day, and appeared to be missing some pages. However, it was later confirmed that this world-first strategy really was just 13 pages long.

The plan was the perfect opportunity to really tackle childhood obesity in this country. But with the change of prime ministers, many of the ground-breaking policies that were expected to be in the plan were edited out by Theresa May and her team, with one of her former officials been reported to have boasted about saving Tony the Tiger, the Frosties mascot. 

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Ministers must ban the sale of energy drinks to under-16s

There is currently a childhood diet and obesity epidemic in the UK. The government needs to act decisively and take tough action to tackle the growing problem. The soft drinks industry levy, or “sugar tax”, has been an important and welcome tool to help fight the problem.

However, with one in five children obese by the age of 11, there is still much to do. One way I believe the government could help tackle this problem is by prohibiting the sale of energy drinks to anyone under the age of 16. That is why I recently led a Westminster Hall debate on the subject, to set out the evidence.

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Carillion late payments, retentions and Project Bank Accounts

Up to 30,000 businesses are predicted to lose money as a result of the collapse of Carillion. According to the Electrical Contractors’ Association, £2 billion is owed to suppliers. Most if not all of that money will never be repaid because of the debts, which Carillion had racked up.

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This could be the last chance to save our vital community transport sector

Community transport – local, not-for-profit provision of transport for people who might otherwise be isolated – rarely comes under the spotlight. It encompasses a broad range of services, from lift-giving by volunteer car drivers, to dial-a-ride minibus services for disabled and elderly people, to local bus services that would otherwise not exist because they cannot survive on a commercial basis.

Members across the House know how essential these services are to local communities. Some constituents describe them as a lifeline. That’s why I was proud that the Transport Committee’s first report since I became chair focused on these vital, yet often overlooked, services and that on Thursday a debate will consider the government’s inadequate response.

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