Opinion: Writer/Comedian Dave Cohen on The Immigration Issue

Immigrant Diaries

On Friday 24 April Dave Cohen will be appearing at the Purcell Rooms in Immigrant Diaries, part of the Changing Britain Festival. In this guest blog he breaks free from the tyranny of silence to discuss this never-aired topic. 


Immigration. It's the subject no one ever talks about, ever. For the last five years the Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Times, Express and newspaper agenda-following BBC, have been telling us that no one talks about immigration. 

So I appreciate the offer from Bruce to write a blog about this subject, since no one's talking about it, because it gives me a chance to do something that no one does, ever.

Immigration. There's a lot of it. In and out of the country. It has increased on a massive scale in the last fifty years. Mainly because it's a lot easier to travel round the world than it ever has been, and, following from that, it means that people who are out of work, and want to work, are likely to head for where the jobs are.

Because immigrants generally leave poorer countries, they're not too choosy about how much they'll earn. Wages that are low in relation to the standard of living in wealthy countries are still probably much more than they can get at home. So they are most likely to find work in places where governments are most relaxed about allowing employers to pay low wages. 

A prime example of this would be the UK. So if you want to see immigration to this country fall, your priority must surely be to urge employers to pay a living wage. 

Not sure there's much else to say about immigration. Maybe that's why no one talks about it. 

I'll talk instead about immigrants. I am one. Virtually everyone in this country is one, but I'm only third generation, so a relative newcomer. The thing I find about living in this country, is that you're a nation of generalisers. Every single one of you. Okay, maybe not you, but that bloke next to you on the bus. And his wife. The thing about yer typical English person, you see, they have a number of preconceptions about immigrants, many of which are wrong. I'd like to clear up a few of these now:


1. We're a community

The Jewish community, the Muslim community, West Indians... it may surprise you to learn that we don't all agree with each other, all the time. You only have to look at your own families to find there are likely to be differences of opinion even among groups of four or five. Yet many persist in assuming that 'the Muslim community' in its entirety supports ISIS and 'the Jewish community' all love Binyamin Netanyahu.


2. We're all left wing

People think that the reason nearly all immigrants don't vote Tory is because they're not Tory. This of course is total nonsense. Immigrants don't vote Tory for the same reason that millions of other people don't vote Tory, which is that the Tory party no longer represents the vast majority of Tories.

When I was growing up the basic Tory values were these: you bought your own house, worked hard, saved money, and if you were lucky you paid off your mortgage in time for retirement. If you were a business owner you enjoyed the co-operation of other business owners, especially through the partnership with Europe. You moaned about taxes, of course, but you did actually pay them. And if you made lots of money you put it back into your community. 

When I was growing up, Tory and immigrant values were practically synonymous.


3. We immigrants are all the victims of racism.

While it's true that most of the racism I’ve encountered face to face has been from ignorant English people prone to generalise about Jews, some of my best racists are friends. They didn’t realise it – as indeed I didn’t until I found that some of my own preconceptions about other minorities were born of ignorance. 

I also encountered a lot of racism in my own house – one elderly relative, whose parents had fled across Eastern Europe towards the end of the 19th century, used to moan about how awful her local shops had become since the blacks had moved in.

I think the world would be a better place if we all admitted our prejudices. I accept it, I am racist. I am racist BUT… I happen to love the incredible contribution that successive waves of immigrants have made to my country.


4. We're really grateful for your support.

No really, we are, of course we are, if we had to choose between you and the bloke from UKIP as a neighbour you'd win every time. But some of you are closer to Nigel and his chums than you might realise. While I'm aware that there are many people who hate me for being Jewish, without knowing anything else about me, there are others who love me for the same reason. 

It's nice to be liked isn't it, I used to be a stand-up comic and we're more desperate to be loved than most other dysfunctional communities. But some people have told me they love me because they love how Jews hate Muslims and if only everyone in this politically correct country hated Muslims as much as I did then the world would be a lovelier place.


5. We 'look after our own'

There is some truth to this, but it's mainly used as racist doublespeak for 'they don't care about anyone else'. Interestingly I rarely hear that phrase used to describe Church of England schools. 


6. We don’t like this country

Not true, I love this country, and one of the things that makes me most proud to be English is the way in which the vast majority of you are so tolerant and kindly disposed to us immigrants. 


Thanks for having me.


Immigrant Diaries will be at Southbank Centre's Purcell Room on 24 April as part of Changing Britain Festival. Info here.

Come In! Sit Down! the Muslim-Jewish comedy show co-written by Dave Cohen is at Tricycle Theatre, July 27 – August 2. Info here.



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