Although Nick Clegg is under increasing pressure in some quarters to write a tell-all book about his time in coalition, the closest he has got to this so far is by signing up to an agency that has advertised his services for up to $55,000 per speech.
Happily, Clegg’s former speechwriter comes at no such cost. Phil Reilly has started a blog detailing his time working for the former deputy Prime Minister. In this, Reilly recalls a phone hacking joke he wrote for Clegg back in 2010:
‘For days, Nick Clegg had been toing and froing over whether he could tell a joke about Andy Coulson. It was September 2010 and I was writing my first ever speech for him, which he would give at the opening rally event of the party’s autumn conference. Coulson was still Cameron’s comms chief but was getting an increasing level of grief over the phone hacking that took place while he was the editor of the News of the World. Nick had a whole riff in his speech about adjusting to life as a coalition partner to the Conservatives and I had written a bunch of gags, one of which went something like: “on the plus side, now that I work with Andy Coulson, I no longer have to check my own voicemails”*.
In the end Clegg decided he could not go ahead with the jibe about Coulson, who was then serving as Cameron’s director of communications:
‘Nick loved the joke but was not sure if he should tell it. He insisted I keep it in every draft of the speech right up until his on stage rehearsal on the afternoon of the event, when he finally decided it was a bridge too far.’
Happily, one man who was happy to use the joke was Tim Farron. Farron — who is now the leader of the Liberal Democrats — went on to use it in his speech later that day, after he was drafted in to speak in the place of an absent Charles Kennedy:
‘In the end, Tim’s speech was all the more brilliant for its spontaneity, the hundreds of watching activists lapped up the Coulson joke and Nick’s speech went down a storm as well.’
Given that Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemails in 2014, perhaps Clegg should have kept that joke in after all.