Political operators and lobbyists being used by media promoting leadership coup

The media were always going to give a lot of coverage to a major party leadership challenge, as they did when Simon Bridges outed the challenge of Todd Muller and the subsequent showdown and change of leader. It was big political news and should have received prominent coverage.

But it also showed a major flaw of the media – their use of political operators and lobbyists to comment on the story.

Matthew Hooton is often used by the media in support of stories, even though he is a professional lobbyist. He was given a shot at promoting his agenda without having to disclose any possible involvement in the challenge.

And Michelle Boag suddenly popped up out of the woodwork to and was quoted a number of times in support of a change. She would be most unlikely to be an independent observer.

NZ Herald – Anatomy of a coup: How Todd Muller felled Simon Bridges and who helped him

This is behind their paywall, but a key part is repeated on Twitter:


RNZ 18 May: Labour surges, National plummets in Newshub-Reid Research poll

“Clearly the leadership has failed. Simon Bridges is down to 4.5 percent. The public simply does not like him, that isn’t fair, the public simply did not like Andrew Little.

“He’s a perfectly pleasant person Andrew Little but the public did not like him, and so Labour had no choice in the end but to get rid of him, and National is now at that point.”

RNZ 19 May: Political poll results with Hooton and Jones

“This is a 25-point gap between National and Labour and that’s simply extraordinary. And the National Party has to take that very seriously, they are taking it seriously, although they do expect another poll to come out on Thursday from TVNZ by Colmar Brunton, and they’ll just see what that has to say.

“If it is as bad as this, I would expect there would be enormous pressure on the current leader and deputy leader to at least offer their resignations to the caucus.

However, a better showing in the Colmar Brunton polling might give Simon Bridges a lifeline, he says.

A “hunk” of National MPs are reluctant to be responding to polls, Hooton says.

“Their views on this is what’s going to decide Simon Bridges future.”

RNZ 21 May (audio): Collins key to National Party battle – Hooton  Political commentator Matthew Hooton speaks to Kim Hill.

RNZ 21 May: Simon Bridges’ tactics likely to lose him the leadership challenge – commentator

Political commentator Matthew Hooton said Bridges’ move to call the leadership vote was an own goal.

“I think it was another example of the poor political judgement that has plagued his political leadership quite frankly.

“I think Simon Bridges’ move yesterday was probably one of the most extraordinary acts of political harikari that we’ve seen.”

Hooton said Muller’s supporters would likely have lost their nerve there would have been no challenge.

“But by taunting Muller, forcing him and … Nikki Kaye to act … there is now a vote on Friday.

“And I think, the way this is going, Mr Bridges will lose and Muller will become leader of the party.

If Bridges survived the leadership vote it would cost the party any chance of winning the election in September, he said.

If Muller and Kaye failed in their challenge Bridges would demote them to the backbenches which would cost the party votes.

“He cannot afford to lose Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye from his senior team, or else he will lose support from both farmers, provincial New Zealanders, and also urban liberals in Auckland.

RNZ 22 May (audio): Commentator backing Muller to win National Party challenge Political commentator Matthew Hooton is supporting Muller to win – Kim Hill asked him how close does he expect the vote to be.

But Hooton was promoting leadership change – in a last NZ herald column last month (24 April) Matthew Hooton (column): Simon Bridges’ leadership beyond salvaging

Hooton is a regular on RNZ and in NZ Herald and is usually a worthwhile commentator, but it’s fair to ask whether his opinions promoted this week were independent of the leadership coup.

If it turns out he was working for Muller that would not reflect well on him due to lack of disclosure, but woukld also refelct poorly onn the media who give him free publicity.

Michelle Boag is not a regular on media, but managed to be given a say on the challenge too.

Newstalk ZB 19 May – Michelle Boag: Bridges could be another victim of Covid-19 fallout

Michelle Boag says it’s no surprise people have responded positively to the Prime Minister – whose ratings shot up to almost 60 percent.

She told Chris Lynch Arden’s been visible everywhere during the pandemic and Bridges hasn’t.

“There is no doubt there’s a good chance of him becoming yet another victim of Covid-19.”

She says that will be up to the Caucus to decide the leader’s fate.

RNZ 21 May: Former National Party president Michelle Boag on leadership challenge Former National Party president Michelle Boag speaks to Corin Dann.

RNZ 21 May: Simon Bridges’ tactics likely to lose him the leadership challenge – commentator

Former National Party president Michelle Boag told Morning Report Bridges shot himself in the foot by holding the vote tomorrow rather than next week.

This was because it made it harder for other leadership contenders to jump into the race, and those unhappy with Bridges’ leadership could rally around one candidate rather than their votes being split between a number of challengers.

However calling for the leadership vote was the right decision, she said.

“I think it’s the right thing for the National Party to get this sorted as quickly as possible and I think the caucus will be really pleased to have an early opportunity to do that.”

She said the need for a leadership vote was not solely prompted by the recent poll.

“It is about months and months, and sometimes years, of these MPs having negative feedback about their leader, not only from party members but from constituents.

“So while the poll may have been the thing that sparked [it] – the catalyst for this challenge – there’s no doubt this has been building for a long time.”

Boag popping up in media is a sure sign that she is promoting some sort of outcome.

I think that with important political issues, and leadership changes rank right up there, media should take care not to promote people with interests in the outcomes.

Cameron Slater, one of the most agenda driven political operators around, was given some oxygen by John Banks on radio during the week to talk about the National leadership challenge, but the only leader Slater seems interested in promoting these days is Winston Peters.

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  1. Duker

     /  24th May 2020

    Behind Herald paywall
    “The Herald on Sunday has since been told by a reliable source that Muller won the leadership by just one vote, although that may never be known for certain.”

    “Then, critically, National Party Board members went to some MPs to flag their concerns and ask for something to be done. MPs had not seen any of the National Party’s internal polls since February – but the board had.”

    and this week when the putsch was on
    “Muller rang party president Peter Goodfellow and party whip Barbara Kuriger, telling them he would challenge. Muller made at least two attempts to call Bridges but did not get an answer. Bridges did not return the call.”

    and the element of farce with the ‘reef fish’
    “Muller flew to Wellington in the morning but disappeared into thin air after being seen by media at the airport.
    Unbeknownst to media, he had not gone very far at all: he had taken a room at the airport hotel to work with his team. From that room, they found great entertainment in looking down and watching the media chasing other MPs – including Kaye who flew down to join them that afternoon.”

    and for those speeches “from” Muller
    “[Nicola] Willis was particularly valuable in that regard: she had been a speech writer for former PM Sir John Key, and had also worked on the campaigns of Key and Bill English, preparing them for debates and major speeches”.

    “Muller’s supporters included Hooton and Michelle Boag, both of whom deployed themselves into the media as commentators to spread the good word. Hooton in particular was relentless. Both are influential commentators – Hooton has regular platforms on RNZ and the NZ Herald.

    “There were also the inevitable accusations of double-crossing. Bridges’ supporters said Whangarei MP Shane Reti had told Bridges he would support him – but had then voted for Muller.”
    Asked about this, Reti denied making false promises of support and said he was possibly misinterpreted.”
    yeah right. However Reti to me seems to be very capable and why English/Bridges didnt make better use of is a mystery

    and the final leak
    “At about 12.40pm, a report seeped out to Newshub”
    Tova gets the story again…. My bet it was Paula

      • Duker

         /  24th May 2020

        He would say that … all those wavering Mps would be telling him now “I was with you 100% Todd”.
        The Herald story says on Wednesday
        “At this point, Muller’s team were not certain they had the numbers.”

        If it really was decisive Bridges would have stepped down . So I dont believe a word of what Muller said…. in a way the ‘fairly decisive’ will sit along side ‘pretty legal’ as the thing they say when its the opposite.

        • It sounds like you only believe what you want to hear.

          • Duker

             /  24th May 2020

            The multiple ‘evidence’ points the other way to being ‘around one’ . Its of no concern to me if he wins by 1 or 10 now its over.
            Didnt Little win by a tiny amount over Robertson too,and the Key win over Brash was supposed to be ‘one’ .
            However Bridges win 2 years ago actually was ‘fairly decisive’ according to Audrey Young story in the Herald

            But the names of Adams supporters seem to be on the Muller side this time round ( Kaye, Bishop, Macindoe)
            Mitchell withdrew either just before the vote or during ……ouch.

            I was just checking back and Hosking publicly backed Collins first then Joyce , and this time he backed Bridges ( a challenge is a sign of weakness)….oh dear our own Mr Wrong

  2. Gerrit

     /  24th May 2020

    What I find more interesting is the lack of positive action from Labour to regain some lost ground. Friday and yesterday would have been the perfect time to release some details of where the budget was going to be spend.

    Take the wind out of National’s sails by announcing start dates for those shovel ready projects and how many unemployed would be utilised.

    Lost opportunity and a strategic blunder by Labour.

    First break in the Labour spin cycle re the pandamic and they don’t react.

    • Gezza

       /  24th May 2020

      Not necessarily. The Muller coup was going to be the major news item anyway. The politically interested sector of country’s been aching for Bridges to be put of OUR misery.

      And there are signs some of the media girlz are not only sick of the never-ending Jacinda & Ashley Shows that they have to try & find new angles for but that the green-eyed-monster is making a few a little more inclined towards dissing the prissy prom queen.

    • David

       /  24th May 2020

      The problem with shovel ready projects is that they generally arnt ready except for the professional fee charging class who need to graze on the taxpayer largese before it gets anywhere close to a shovel.
      The problem you then have is the newly unemployed dont know how to use a shovel because their skill set is flying a plane, waiting tables, cooking and cleaning or driving a tour bus. Building a hospital or a school etc is a complicated business using specialist skills not readily available here. Its a vastly different business to knocking up a house.
      If the government wants to get the place humming what it needs to do is get out of the way as much as possible.

      • Pink David

         /  24th May 2020

        Yes. Things like roading projects will be done by exactly the same people who do roading projects now. Some jobs will be created around the edges, but the 1930’s ideas of job creation didn’t work in the 30’s and won’t work now.

        • Duker

           /  24th May 2020

          Didnt work in the 1930s ? Yes it did
          A vigorous State housing programme was begun, public works expenditure was stepped up, and unemployment and other social benefits were increased. The dairy farmers got their promised “guaranteed price”, ………….In 1937 a Marketing Department was established, monopolising the export of dairy produce. A programme of stimulating the development of manufacturing industry was started, and the 40-hour week was introduced.

          • Pink David

             /  24th May 2020

            The wonderful thing here Duker is it appears you are about to live through your desired ‘success’.

            • Duker

               /  24th May 2020

              Its not hard at all,and it worked back in 2008
              “Kevin Rudd: How we staved off recession and the GFC

              The muddles here with Key and English with vague talk of green shoots and a recovery built on cycle ways and convention centres slowly moved things along with the help of a migration boom.
              Whats the old saying , some make their own luck and the corona virus showed Ardern and Co got very ‘lucky’ because of the clear thinking . It will happen again. So instead of a few financial newspapers saying ‘rockstar economy’ we have ‘a leader for the ages ‘ opinions in mant world capitals . Key would only get a ‘pull aside’ meeting at those gab fests , Ardern is at the top table where real decisions are made.

              naturally this blog has fractious paleoconservatives more at home at BFD repeat their worn and inaccurate themes, but the polls say different

      • Duker

         /  24th May 2020

        Yes, a better term would ‘consultation ready’.
        A recent court case between Fletchers and major electrical contractor Electrix showed that the building[Christchurch Courts/Police] was under construction and there was barely any detailed electrical design for the contractor too follow.[The main design engineers offered to do so but were declined]
        There was a construction software program which was used to to show on the plans where conflicts would occur between different trades…an Fletchers manager turned that ‘layer’ off as his schedule was all that mattered and too hell with any rework
        Fletchers lost the case and had no arguable case for the disputed payments but fought it anyway.
        The idea has taken hold that concepts and outlines are substitutes for full detail design. Its like project managers who work on houses are given massive projects to complete and still want to wing it.

        • Pink David

           /  24th May 2020

          Thanks for that post Duker. I had not seen that case before, very entertaining.

  3. Reply
    • Duker

       /  24th May 2020

      Farrar was in the same situation, but for his business needed to not publicly come out for either side- he remains a close Friend of Bridges and would stay with his family when in Tauranga.
      Interesting that Farrar could see the writing on the wall and how much he was dependent on one party and was ‘polling’ his blog to see if readers would pay for access for polling information but not the ‘exclusives’ that National gets . he could be going the UMR way of getting paying customers for much more of the’general’ polling information

  4. RNZ are now calling Hooton a ‘political pundit’ (they referred to him as a political commentator in several articles during the week).

    On most Mondays in recent years, Matthew Hooton’s been on RNZ’s Nine to Noon to talk politics with Kathryn Ryan – alongside an opposing pundit who leans to the left.

    The lobbyist and former National Party staffer also has a weekly column on Fridays in the New Zealand Herald and he’s been a familiar and frequent voice on many programmes wanting his insight and opinions on politics.

    As the leadership contest played out during the week, Matthew Hooton appeared on RNZ’s Checkpoint and he was on Morning Report on Thursday and on Friday morning, the day of the vote.

    Matthew Hooton’s preference was scarcely a secret: the headline on his Herald column that same day was National’s only choice – Muller for Leader.

    In the column – written the previous day – his personal connection to the leadership contender was acknowledged in a footnote which said he and Todd Muller had been friends for 30 years and “had spoken during recent events.” He also pointed out he’d known Nikki Kaye and Simon Bridges for 13 years too.

    “Heaven knows how RNZ chose repeatedly to use lobbyist Matthew Hooton as a commentator . . . when most journalists know that Hooton has been working on Muller’s behalf to help achieve this outcome,” BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie wrote in a piece re-published by the Herald late on Friday.

    After that circulated on social media, it was clear many journalists didn’t know if Matthew Hooton was part of Todd Muller’s leadership campaign or not. Matthew Hooton’s own Twitter account – which had been pretty active in previous days – disappeared from the platform on Friday.

    But was he effectively a spokesperson for the Muller campaign without actually saying so ?

    Mediawatch asked Matthew Hooton if he had advised or worked on behalf of Todd Muller – or any other National Party MPs – on the party’s leadership contest.

    He said Todd Muller contacted him last Wednesday to say he was challenging for the leadership.

    “I gave him personal support as a friend,” he said.

    Hooton said that during the interview on Morning Report on Thursday “it became obvious to me I should make clear my friendship with Todd Muller and also Simon Bridges.”

    “I made this even clearer in a second interview, and in a couple of other interviews. I put very significant disclaimers into my Friday Herald column written on Thursday,” he told Mediawatch.

    He then responded to a request on Thursday night from Kaye to travel to Wellington the next day to help Muller.

    “I was later asked to help Todd on an unpaid basis through Friday afternoon, and advised RNZ and the Herald that I could no longer do my usual Nine to Noon and Business Herald slots under these circumstances,” he said.

    “I am still in Wellington helping with various things and don’t know what the future holds beyond the next few days,” he told Mediawatch.

    “Obviously I am too conflicted right now to do any political commentary,” he added.


    I would question whether “too conflicted right now” should have applied earlier.

  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  24th May 2020

    I’ve never had much time for Hooton. More ego than insight IMO. A more cunning version of Slater.

    • duperez

       /  24th May 2020

      You’ve got it. It puts a perspective on the comment above, “If it turns out he was working for Muller that would not reflect well on him…”

      Reflecting well is nothing if you get to power.

      Slater has probably been the most obvious and odious creator and purveyor of dirt in New Zealand politics in 50 years. He differed, differs, in style to Hooton and Farrar.

      Some still expect the game to be, “Jolly good cricket old chap” and how you play the game is more important than winning. To me Slater would be overtly cheating however he could, putting chewing gum on the wickets to keep the bails on, doctoring the book. Hooton and Farrar would seem to be all prim and proper and would be furtively sanding hell out of the ball.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  24th May 2020

        No, I don’t equate Farrar and Hooton. Farrar is partisan of course but he doesn’t set my teeth on edge like Hooton.


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