Let Northern jobless pick fruit, says Tory

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A Top Tory is facing calls to resign after saying that unemployed northerners should replace Eastern European immigrants by taking fruit-picking jobs in the south.

David Shakespeare, the leader of the Conservative group on the Local Government Association, sparked outrage after declaring that people from the north should find work in fruit farms and orchards.

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Coun Shakespeare, who is also the leader of Buckinghamshire county council, told a meeting of the LGA: "The north may replace the Romanians in the cherry orchards. That may be a good thing."

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His comments were today condemned by Coun Andrew Carter, the leader of

the Conservative group on Leeds council, who said he should either resign or issue an "abject apology".

He said: "I seriously think he should be considering his position. I am absolutely furious.

"He is just demonstrating a total ignorance of the fact that throughout the recession a lot of skilled people have lost their jobs and to suggest they pick fruit is crass.

"Perhaps a visit to the north of England might educate him."

Coun Keith Wakefield, the Labour leader of Leeds council, said: "If I was David Cameron I would be asking him what he was doing. Is he representing the Conservatives on this? I certainly would be saying 'consider your position'."

Coun Shakespeare's comments were made during a debate about the prospect of councils being allowed to keep the business rates they collect rather than being redistributed to poorer areas.

They have been likened to Norman Tebbit's advice to the unemployed in the 1980s to "get on your bike".

But Coun Shakespeare yesterday insisted his remarks were "totally jovial".

He told his local newspaper: "The comment was said in clear jest in response to a joke from a Labour member who said he was going to send all the northern unemployed to Kent.

"So I think somebody who is flogging a soft story as a serious comment must have an ulterior motive, it's that simple.

"It was totally jovial and everyone at the meeting knew that.

"I'm sure anybody with any kind of sense of humour wouldn't have taken it seriously but it's being peddled around maybe for political purposes."

LGA chairman Baroness Margaret Eaton (Con) is reported to have immediately rebuked Coun Shakespeare for his "horrible" comment and local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said: "I will be seeing him first thing on Wednesday morning, and I shall ask him precisely what he meant by that."

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