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PoliticsSeptember 4, 2023

Is the CTU running psyops for the National Party?


There is only one way to explain this personal attack campaign: as a classic execution of the dead cat strategy, theorises a swivel-eyed Toby Manhire.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has a long and often deep association with the Labour Party, but that relationship appears to have collapsed, with the CTU launching today an advertising campaign that looks set to reinforce Christopher Luxon’s status as the presumptive prime minister after October’s election.

Less than a week after the National Party unveiled its centrepiece 2023 tax-cut policy – a “back pocket boost” – the new revenue measures in the package were facing mounting scrutiny. Luxon and his finance spokesperson Nicola Willis had sought to dismiss criticisms about the plausibility, legality and projected income from proposed taxes on foreigners buying property and offshore gambling sites, saying they were political hits from Labour. That was looking flimsier by the hour as tax experts and nonpartisan commentators queued up to shake their heads disapprovingly. 

There were signs that easily the most important National Party campaign proposition, inextricably bound to its reputation for economic management, may be unravelling. The National Party was desperate for a distraction. A candy floss rally with a listicle the stick at its centre was not enough. Who would come to the rescue? The CTU would. 

Glaring out from the front page of the Herald and again from the inside-front was a snarling Christopher Luxon. “OUT OF TOUCH. TOO MUCH RISK,” read the warning. There was more: posters, digital billboards and a social media campaign, all pointing to an “Out of Touch” website targeted at someone called Christopher Luxton.

It immediately shifted the conversation. Suddenly nobody seemed much interested in international tax treaties. Everyone was talking about attack politics and American-style campaign tactics. Here, surely, was a classic example of dead cat strategy: when you want to shift the conversation from something damaging, you chuck a dead cat on the table. The attack ad was the cat, but who was chucking it? The only rational explanation: the CTU has outflanked its close friends at the Taxpayers’ Union and is now in the pocket of the National Party. 

Had the CTU been working in the interests of the Labour Party, you might imagine a campaign homing in on, say, the fair pay agreement legislation and how a change in government would likely see it killed. Or how the 90-day trials could be back if Labour is thrown out. 

But to go full-bore attack and make it so personal just as Labour is promising “positive campaign messages” reeks of sneaky tactics. If the ambition is to (a) eviscerate Labour’s “relentlessly positive” credentials and (b) distract people from looking at tax promises, it is hard to imagine a more effective salvo. It is tempting to suggest that this ad campaign will prompt a backlash, but I – a chessmaster of political science – suggest to you that in fact the CTU now loves the National Party very much and so in fact it is a frontlash.

Suspicions that the CTU is a sock puppet of the New Zealand National Party are reinforced by passages in Luxon’s speech yesterday. He warned of a scaremongering approach from his rivals, “a campaign that’s negative and personal”. How could he have known that the attacks were coming today? All right, maybe it could be because the ads were accidentally beamed on to streets a week before they were meant to be released, but an alternative explanation is that Christopher Luxon is now the CEO of the CTU.

Just as Act revealed itself to be secretly working for New Zealand First by running an “attack ad” sporting Winston Peters and his Cheshire grin, the CTU appears now to be the subterranean psyops bureau of the National Party, the heir to dark arts supervillains Jason Ede and Simon Lusk. 

The layers are peeling away. Suddenly CTU is making sense. Crosby Textor Unlimited. 

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