I have a theory. Someone in National’s strategy team has a recurring item in their Outlook calendar that pops up every, say, five weeks, and reads: ‘Spread rumours of Labour leadership changes. Go to gym. Fish for dinner.’ And so they call up one of their external consultants who masquerade as political commentators – Matthew Hooton in this case – who fabricates a rumour that isn’t even remotely plausible (Shane Jones as Labour’s new Deputy!). And even though none of Hooton’s ‘insider rumours’ ever turn out to be true, a subset of gallery journalists who aren’t working on any real stories faithfully regurgitate them.
I’m not sure why this last part of the process happens, but it always does.