Prime Minister's popularity seemingly protects him from public derision.

Poor Andrew Little could not seem to say anything that worked for him this week. The suggestion that the Government should call in the banks to enforce the Reserve Bank's lowering of the official cash rate, was not greeted with the public acclaim he probably expected.

His call for the Government and the banks to come to the aid of dairy farmers, did not resonate strongly. His assertion that the number of Chinese and Indian cooks in the country was evidence immigration was too loose, sounded positively New Zealand First.

In fact it was NZ First. Winston Peters weighed in say you only have to go down Dominion Rd and see the number of ethnic restaurants to know they must be "fronts" for immigration fraud.

Mr Little, though, is better than this. He has the misfortune to be leading the Opposition to a Government whose leader seemingly can do no wrong.


John Key ought to be suffering public embarrassment today for his part in the "jihadi brides" nonsense.

He put that term into the public arena last year when the director of the SIS was briefing a parliamentary select committee and said there was "an issue of New Zealand women travelling to Iraq and Syria". The Prime Minister called them "jihadi brides" and so did the headlines. The New Zealand Islamic Women's Council was surprised and distressed at the news and say they offered to help the security services in any way they could but received no response.

This week it emerged that the director was talking about women who had travelled from Australia. Presumably they were travelling on New Zealand passports but it was not the evidence of jihadist activity here that it seemed.

Mr Key owes New Zealand Muslims an apology and if his popularity was on the wane, the public would be demanding an apology to all of us. But it is not on the wane and he is forgiven these sort of exaggerations too readily. A Prime Minister should speak as carefully and precisely as he can on subjects of national intelligence, because it is information not easily checked.

Mr Little's problems arise from his failure so far to strike a chord with the country.

He does not help his party's credibility, or his own, with the sort of suggestions he made this week. The enforced interest-rate cut in particular made no sense. The Reserve Bank's official cash rate is not a financial regulation, it is no more than a signal to lending banks and business generally if where the central bank believes inflation and the economy is going, relative to the country's trading partners.

Normally governor Graeme Wheeler makes his intentions clear well in advance and banks set their lending and deposit rates accordingly.

Last week Mr Wheeler surprised them, lowering the rate in line with movements in comparable countries. But the official cash rate is only one of the costs retail banks must take into account when setting their rates. It was no surprise they would not immediately lower their rates.

This is elementary monetary policy and if Mr Little proposes to change it, he needs to produce a comprehensive alternative prescription for economic management. In the absence of a policy so daring, his suggested jawboning of banks this week deserves the derision it received. He needs to do better.

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