Perhaps not surprisingly (though I only sort of included it in my list of 10 predictions for the TV leader debates: see number 9), there is some intense debate going on over the details for the general election TV debates between Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
As the News of the World reported at the weekend, some of the demands being made really verge on the absurd. However, that’s to be expected in a negotiation being carried out mostly behind closed doors: you start of with extreme demands and try to bluff others into giving in or risking being the ones blamed for the failure of the negotiations.
However, there is an easy, simple way for the TV channels due to host the debates to side-step all this.
Go for public, swing arbitration.
Get each party to submit its list of details for how the debates should be handled. Also ask an independent body, such as the Hansard Society, to submit one.
Publish them all and then go for swing arbitration – i.e. only one option can be picked and it is picked in total, without any amendments.
That way both the publicity and the swing mechanism forces parties to put in sensible proposals and, anyway, there is the safety net of the fourth submission. If all parties play silly buggers, bingo – you’ve got the rules anyway.