Political commentator and lobbyist Matthew Hooton has been hired for a role in National Party leader Todd Muller's office.

The move will come as no surprise, given Hooton's friendship with Muller and the unpaid help he provided as Muller rolled Simon Bridges as party leader.

But it is also likely to cause disquiet among some of Muller's caucus colleagues, given Hooton's chequered history with the National Party, in particular his clashes with Sir John Key, Steven Joyce and Murray McCully.

READ MORE:
Nikki Kaye on her Māori blunder, leadership challenges and Simon Bridges
No Mullermania yet for Todd Muller in first poll since leadership change
National leader Todd Muller says Coalition Government is dysfunctional
Covid 19 coronavirus: Leaked Cabinet paper emboldens Todd Muller; Jacinda Ardern fires back

Advertisement

Hooton confirmed to the Herald that he is now officially working for Muller.

"I have recently been engaged by the National Leaders' Office on a short-term basis. Obviously I am too conflicted to do any political commentary right now."

He has been a prominent political commentator, writing a regular column for the Herald including one on the morning of National's leadership vote stating why the MPs had to choose Muller.

National Party leader Todd Muller was at 13 per cent in the preferred PM stakes in the latest UMR poll. Photo / Pool
National Party leader Todd Muller was at 13 per cent in the preferred PM stakes in the latest UMR poll. Photo / Pool

The column included a disclaimer that Hooton has been a personal friend of Muller's for 30 years and "has spoken to him during recent events. These views are his own."

He later told RNZ that he had given Muller his support as a friend after Muller had told him two days before the vote that he was going to challenge.

He also made his friendship with Muller clear in RNZ interviews before the leadership vote - one on the morning of the vote and one on the previous day - but he did not fully disclose the extent of his involvement.

He later revealed he had travelled to Wellington on the morning of the vote at the request of National MP Nikki Kaye, who is now deputy leader, to help the Muller team.

"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 told RNZ.

Advertisement
Lobbyist and political commentator Matthew Hooton has been hired on a short-term-basis in the National Party leader's office. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lobbyist and political commentator Matthew Hooton has been hired on a short-term-basis in the National Party leader's office. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It is still unclear whether a role has been confirmed for political strategist Tim Hurdle, who was with Muller in Wellington when he won the leadership.

Hurdle used to run the New Zealand arm of controversial political strategy and polling firm Crosby Textor, but it is understood he finished that role at the end of February.

He is based in Muller's Bay of Plenty electorate, where he is involved in the electorate branch, and he has previously worked in Gerry Brownlee and Steven Joyce's ministerial offices.

Hurdle was originally touted as Muller's potential campaign director on a list that included Megan Campbell as Muller's chief of staff.

Campbell has previously worked at Wellington lobbying firm Saunders Unsworth as well as Curia, the polling firm used by the National Party.

Hooton was also on that list as the potential head of communications.

Hooton featured prominently in Nicky Hager's books The Hollow Men and Dirty Politics, and fell out of favour with many in the John Key-led Government.

Speaking to the Spinoff last year, Hooton said: "I was pretty strongly excluded from the Key government because of my criticisms of – ironically, something revealed by Nicky Hager – the use of the SIS to smear the leader of the opposition. I thought Key should have resigned over that and I said so on the radio. Also I attacked him strongly over the ponytail. And of course I led the criticism of Murray McCully's dodgy sheep deal."

Hooton also angered Joyce when he wrote a National Business Review column titled "Joyce sacking first test of Bridges' leadership" in 2018.

Joyce took legal action against Hooton, who later apologised and settled the case, paying $5000 for Joyce's costs. Joyce later won a defamation case against the NBR.

A UMR poll taken the week after Muller became party leader showed no substantial change to the National Party's fortunes, although Muller debuted at 13 per cent in the preferred Prime Minister stakes.

The poll results had National on 30 per cent – just 1 per cent higher than the last UMR poll under Bridges' leadership at the end of April.

Labour was still well ahead of National on 54 per cent. NZ First was on 5 per cent and the Green Party on 4 per cent.

Jacinda Ardern was on 65 per cent support as preferred Prime Minister.

UMR is the polling company used by the Labour Party, but this was one of a regular series taken for its corporate clients rather than Labour.