Humour vacuum in the north as fruit picking quip goes sour

Honestly, you're not safe anywhere from the dreaded humour police. Try and lighten the mood of some boring meeting with an off-the-cuff quip and the next thing you know you're being cut off at the knees.

That's what happened when Tory councillor David Shakespeare (no relation) told the Local Government Association that one workable option open to unemployed northerners was to head south and take up fruit picking. He suggested it would solve two problems, firstly, joblessness among our northern brethren, and secondly, it might reduce the amount of whingeing from those who accuse Eastern Europeans of taking British jobs.

It took about a nanosecond before anyone living north of Watford took offence decided that this unforgivable slur was worth a public flogging before the good councillor was hung, drawn and quartered.

Nothing wrong with fruit picking

But I find it hard to understand exactly where the offence is. There's nothing wrong with fruit picking as a job, and droves of Londoners used to head off to Kent, back in the day, for a spot of seasonal work alongside the annual family holiday. I've seen plenty of pictures of rosy-cheeked urchins playing in the orchards of South East England while their parents toil away under the sun.

The reality is that the North East, North West, Yorkshire and The Humber regions all have above-average unemployment levels while the South East is significantly lower. What's wrong with encouraging a flexible labour market to address this imbalance? In the whole of Great Britain, the Orkney Islands have the lowest unemployment levels. What if Cllr Shakespeare had suggested a move there, would there have been the same outrage?

Actually, having tried my own hand at fruit picking – albeit from the 'pick your own strawberries' outfit a few miles from where I live – I can honestly say that reaping the rich seasonal rewards from Mother Earth is a very satisfying experience and one that I would gladly pay for.

So if our bluff northern cousins have decided this is not their cup of tea, then it's fine by me. Anyway, they'd probably bruise all the fruit with their thick, clumsy fingers.

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