The latest battle in Parliament is not over which party is the farmer's best friend in the midst of the dairy downturn because Labour was always going to struggle on that count when it opposes the tariff-cutting TPP.

So Labour redefined the battle yesterday into who is the biggest enemy of New Zealand's foreign-owned banks.

These are banks which could be preparing to force farmers off their land, land which could be sold to foreigner, and banks which have been slow to pass on the latest cut in the official cash rate to lenders and could hold out altogether despite competitive pressures.

John Key was always destined to lose a contest to demonise banks for something that hasn't yet happened.


Having acquired a fabulous fortune in a successful career at Merril Lynch, it is hardly surprising that the Prime Minister doesn't see the banking sector with horns and a fork.

But a tweet by Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway summed up Labour's view of Key as "a complete and utter banker."

Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson shouted across the chamber : "You don't care about ordinary New Zealanders."

The Greens couldn't decide whether they were more disgusted with Key because he couldn't estimate the number of farmers that could go to the wall or that he said he "didn't have a clue" how many would.

Their use of statistics by an agricultural consultant with the name of a former Labour Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, added to the confusion.

Labour leader Andrew Little offered Key a gentleman's version of his original "cut the crap" line and a simple choice: "Will he just level with me for a moment and tell me whose side is he on, New Zealand dairy farmers or the overseas-owned banks?"

But in a bid to be the strongest enemy of the foreign-owned banks, Little also exposed his own weakness: thinking aloud.

He shocked almost everyone yesterday when he reached for the Muldoon handbook on economic management and raised the serious prospect of Labour legislating for interest rates in Government if the banks weren't as responsive as he thought they should be.


But tweeting National MP Chris Bishop said it was "heading back to the 70s" and "trashing" Labour's proud record on monetary policy.

Respected economist Shamubeel Eaqub on RNZ described it as "terrifying" and he was made the case for banks preparing themselves for possible bad times ahead.

Early on his leadership, Little was caught thinking aloud about means testing superannuation, which was also a terrifying prospect for thousands of Kiwis until he back-tracked.

The prospect of regulating for interest rates is so far from orthodox that Little's comments could be written off as " just one of those things you say in Opposition," as former Labour Minister Steve Maharey once put it.

Labour may have set the terms for yesterday's battle, but Little gifted National a new weapon to use against Labour.

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