Cable keen to distance Lib Dems from unrealistic immigration target

One of the Liberal Democrats’ best-known MPs is fighting to distance his party from a Conservative policy to cut annual net migration.

Business Secretary Vince Cable is locked in a battle with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), who are continuing to make mention of a pledge by David Cameron to reduce the number of net migrants to tens of thousands by this year.

Mr Cable wants the organisation to make absolutely clear that the agenda was set by the Tories and is not in fact government policy.

The Guardian revealed at the weekend that Mr Cable, who some still see as a future leader of his party, had gone as far as to write to Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority.

The correspondence called on the ONS to stop referring to Mr Cameron’s commitment as “a target” in official publications.

It is understood that Mr Cable wants to remove any doubt that the policy – which he sees as ill-conceived and unachievable – originated with the Lib Dems’ coalition partners.

“The public rightly expects all ONS releases to reflect the facts accurately, given its role as a trusted and respected institution,” said the Secretary of State, in one of his letters to Mr Dilnot.

“It is not for the ONS to comment on public discourse or political targets set by political parties and continuing to use this incorrect wording will no doubt compromise its political neutrality and independence thus misleading the public.”

If the Lib Dems are worried that being associated with the policy may harm the chances of winning back traditional voters, the Tories are equally concerned that the failure to deliver on the promise will anger supporters who may be persuaded to switch allegiance to UKIP.

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