John Ryler, head of Sky News in The Times today explains the way they will approach this which seems very fair including involving an outside body such as the Hansard Society or The Electoral Commission to oversse it and also to make the unedited feed available to other broadcasters. He ends by saying:
The decision for the politicians is simple: fill them (the chairs) or leave them empty. I give this guarantee: the cameras will be rolling and anyone who doesn’t show up better be ready to explain themselves to the public.
Fantastic! I wonder if Sky have been reading this blog as that is exactly what I advocated a few weeks ago on here in my post "Gordon Brown should be empty chaired". I suggested that as long as all 3 main leaders had been invited then the debate should go ahead even if one of them declined to participate and asked if any broadcaster has the courage to do this. Now I have my answer. I would like to see Gordon Brown try to explain to the public why he did not turn up if he chooses not to.
In reality, now that Sky have thrown down the gauntlet, I think this debate will go ahead. Apparently Cameron has already accepted. I expect Nick Clegg will too. That leaves Brown but he has little to lose now anyway. It's not like he is miles ahead in the polls and would be worried about a potential "game changer". Frankly, from his perspective he needs one himself now and a debate at least gives that possibility (although I can't see it happening in his favour to be honest).
The other thing about this is as Stephen Glenn also points out today, once it happens once, it will be very difficult for any future leader to refuse to participate in one as a precedent will have been set.
Fair play to Sky News for this move. Someone needed to do it.
UPDATE: As I expected, Nick Clegg has just confirmed on Twitter that he relishes the opportunity and will take part in the debate.