Editor-At-Large: Job sharing divides work more fairly


Wouldn't Britain run a lot more smoothly if every citizen was handed a lethal pill at 75? Compulsory death – there's a lot to be said for it. We old people cost a fortune in drugs and assistance, and clog up the job market by refusing to retire, denying middle management a step up the ladder. Many of us live in houses with quite a few spare rooms. Can bankrupt Britain afford us?

Here's my plan: end your life quietly at home, or partying with complete strangers. After a dignified send-off (a standard ceremony with slots for personal music choices) in an eco-coffin, your body would be recycled into compost and used to fertilise parks or grow vegetables for prisons and schools. Forget about tinkering with the retirement age and freezing pensions – we've too many old people for the limited resources of double-dip Britain plc. If the population were humanely culled at 75, we could balance our books: the cost of providing care would plummet; the NHS would run within budget and waiting times for operations would shrink.

Instead of taking drastic action to confront the horrendous cost of an ageing population, the Government seems confused about whether it wants us to work or retire. With more than a million young people on the scrapheap there's a big argument in favour of compulsory retirement, if not my preferred extreme option – legalised death.

Age discrimination was banned in 2006, and from 2011 employers could no longer give people notice they would be sacked at 65. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled bosses can force workers to leave at pensionable age – but only on grounds of "public interest". Meaning? They say employers can give older workers notice they'll be sacked at 65 (or older as the retirement age rises) if it's part of their business plan to allow younger workers to become partners. Whatever the ruling means, in reality the only people who benefit will be lawyers, because there is bound to be a flood of age-discrimination claims ending up in court.

Personally, I would be highly offended to be laid off at 65, but I'm a selfish baby-boomer. Faced with a death pill at 75, though, I am prepared to make a compromise. Compulsory job sharing from 55: every senior member of staff has to mentor and support a new worker. In the future, there will not be enough jobs to go around. So be prepared to share, or be forced to take a pill.

My mate Merton

I've a soft spot for Paul Merton – a master of the weird charade that is Just a Minute. We met in 1994 – I was in charge of a BBC documentary he hosted charting the history of the London Palladium. Hard to believe these days, Paul was incredibly nervous in front of the camera, and seemed awestruck interviewing heroes like Frankie Vaughan. Next, he presented a series about his favourite comedians and I found we had grown up in the same part of working-class Fulham, west London, listening to Peter Brough and Archie Andrews, Tony Hancock and Max Miller. Paul sometimes looks a bit bored on Have I Got News for You, but don't been fooled: that brain is laser sharp.

He's currently on tour, for the first time since 1999, and I saw Paul's Out of My Head show in Canterbury. Most stand-ups are so aggressive these days – people expect a load of gags – but that's not Paul's style. The show takes a leisurely stroll through his life, from school to a period in a mental hospital – and has had mixed reviews, probably because about half the audience are expecting gut-busting comedy dynamite, and what you get is surreal, whimsical wit. Rhod Gilbert, Frankie Boyle or Paul Merton? Merton gets my vote, even if audiences seem lukewarm.

An Olympian horror

The curse of JSP strikes again – the minute I branded the Olympic torch unutterably naff, more reminiscent of a 1970s wall light than a beacon of hope, it won a major award, chosen from 88 entries as Design of the Year at London's Design Museum. Apparently, the serried rows of holes piercing the torch represent the 8,000 men and women chosen to carry this monstrosity a few hundred yards on its convoluted route around Britain. Does that conceit make an iconic object, or just tick a box? I'm not a cultural philistine, having commissioned two modern houses and filled them with art. Nevertheless, I'm underwhelmed by some of the arts in the Cultural Olympiad. A bouncy castle of Stonehenge by Jeremy Deller? A giant pineapple floating on the Thames? A rooftop installation inspired by The Italian Job? We already have world-class artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin whose work will be on show this summer – so why waste millions trying to pull together 12,000 events pretending they all conform to one quango-approved Olympic theme?

Gangsters off screen

Tonight on the Crime and Investigation Network, At Home with the Noonans looks at the life of an extraordinary man. A devout Catholic, a gay gangster, a chap who sometimes tries a spot of stand-up – doesn't that sound like an entertaining watch? Domenyk Noonan - star of the show - won't be tuning in, as he's currently banged up for violating the terms of his parole, having spent 28 of his 46 years behind bars, collecting over 30 convictions. The acclaimed investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre followed Domenyk, his teenage son and motley associates around their patch in Manchester for more than 10 years after the murder of his dad Desmond, and gained an extraordinary level of trust.

Donal tells me that after last summer's riots it's essential we understand the mindset of people who live like this. I worry that putting the Noonans on screen (Donal won several awards for his feature film A Very British Gangster) in a non-judgemental way turns them into folk heroes and introduces them to a wider audience of impressionable young men. The Noonans are big fish in a small pond, but giving them a TV series elevates their status. We have enough problems with kids copying US gangs, without home-grown versions as well.

All Trumped up

I never thought I'd agree with Donald Trump, but we share a loathing of wind farms. The man with the world's most complex comb-over is furious that Alex Salmond's government has given the go-ahead for an offshore wind farm which would be visible from the new world-class golf course he's just built on pristine dunes near Aberdeen. Trump addressed the Scottish Energy and Tourism Committee in full rant mode, describing Mr Salmond as Mad Alex and telling anyone who would listen, "I am the world expert on tourism" (well worth a listen on YouTube). I doubt the ramblers, the local farmer who refused to move and the environmentalists who campaigned against his horrible golf course would concur.

Literacy before history, please

An academic think tank says kids are growing up without any understanding of the past because whole periods of British and European history aren't taught in most schools these days. They list 37 key dates every child should know, from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to the peasants' revolt in 1381. Utter bilge – I only ever studied 15th- to 17th-century history at O- and A-level, and it's never been a problem. Let's get kids literate, for starters.

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