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Sarah Sands

Sarah Sands: It's showbiz, Arlene, not a human rights crusade

The sacking of the 66-year-old Arlene Phillips as a Strictly Come Dancing judge is described as "absolutely shocking" by the Equalities Minister Harriet Harman, who has been much more sanguine in her assessment of the benefits of the war in Afghanistan. These are the priorities of our age.

I doubt whether John Sergeant, whom Phillips called "a dancing pig in Cuban heels", was shocked to see the old tyrant kicked off the show. Perhaps he did a little porcine polka to celebrate the poetic justice of it.

The "absolutely shocking" forced retirement of a television light entertainment face six years past her pensionable age is compounded by the ditching of Radio 1's Jo Whiley, aged 44, in favour of Fearne Cotton, aged 27. No matter that Radio 1 is a popular music channel, aimed at teenagers. It amounts to a conspiracy by BBC 1's chief granny-basher, Jay Hunt. The stars of television – a wholly visual medium – accuse her of lookism.

The passionate supporters of Arlene portray her as a cross between Ninette de Valois and Emily Pankhurst; disciplined, brave, magnificent. Her upstart replacement, Alesha Dickson, aged 30, has no achievements by comparison. Yet our feminist martyr made her name on The Kenny Everett Show. The disco song she created, "I lost my heart to a starship trooper", was a minor hit. I find it dazzlingly outshone by Alesha Dickson's "The Boy Does Nothing". Phillips earned respect for her choreography of West End musicals, but they were all products of their time. Just as, I'm afraid, is she.

I remember Hot Gossip and the Pineapple Dance Studios with nostalgic affection. I have a cultural affinity with hennaed, permed hair, leg warmers and Sylvia Caplin, Carole's mother. But we cannot preserve the 1980s as if we were Miss Havisham or Madonna. Entertainment is necessarily restless.

I am only mildly aware of our other wronged heroine, Jo Whiley, because I do not listen to Radio 1, just as I don't watch MTV or spend all day on Facebook or hang around H&M with my friends. But my children, who do all of these things, find Whiley a little formal and not funny enough. Since she is in her early forties, maybe she has, deep down, tired of gags about what she got up to last night.

This is why Jonathan Ross also needs "refreshing". The recession has not been kind to established stars, especially in television. The older are painfully learning what the young already know, that nobody is indispensable. Justice lies in the market. If the ratings go down, Arlene can return victorious. Bruce Forsyth is a miraculous example of a return from the professional grave.

But let's not turn the caprices of light entertainment into a human rights issue. The baby boomers, now in their sixties, are the pushiest generation of all and do not concede power lightly. But their sense of entitlement is not shared by the under-thirties.

Those of the new generation do not expect jobs for life; they hardly expect jobs until Friday. They know they are sitting on cosmic pension black holes and face vertiginous taxes. How much harder it will be if, every time their fingers stretch for the next rung up, a baby boomer's sharp heel kicks them from the ladder.

If jobs are to become as finite as water, then we must take a long, clear, James Lovelock-style look at how we allocate them. Perhaps we can learn from Freddie Flintoff, who announced last week his retirement from Test cricket. Aged 31.