When is a target not a target? Theresa May seems quite keen for us to think that Tory pledge to bring migration down to the tens of thousands was a ‘comment’ or an ‘aim’, now that it doesn’t look as though that’s going to be possible in time for the election.
Today Number 10 did insist that there had been no change in the target, but also refused to call it a ‘promise’. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said:
‘There’s no change. That remains the objective towards which the Prime Minister and others are working… It has always been the objective. There’s been no change, the tens of thousands by the end of this Parliament.’
Those who’ve followed the twists and turns of Tory language on a target they can’t meet will remember that it was George Osborne who first started distancing his party from the pledge when he tried to use it as evidence the UK needs a new settlement on freedom of movement in the European Union.
It was once a target. Former Lib Dem Number 10 adviser Sean Kemp says:
‘The Home Office used to try to describe it as a target all the time. I wasted god knows how many hours getting it taken out of briefings.’
But now the Conservatives seem to be describing the target as an ‘objective’, which means they will now say they aimed to cut it but accept they couldn’t and it’s not their fault.