Does he duck it or does he give a platform to his opponents?
Assuming that there’s a serious contest for the Labour leadership, which looks increasingly likely, then a huge call that Gordon and his team will have to make is how to respond to the inevitable calls for the contenders to take part in a series of TV debates.
The pattern was set by the Davis-Cameron confrontations last November and there were similar debates with the Lib Dem contenders events in February. It’s going to be quite hard to resist what’s becoming an established part of leadership elections.
But for Gordon Brown, as the overwhelming favourite, taking part would be a mega-risk. Being on the same platform would give huge credibility to any challenger(s), and there’s the real prospect that the Chancellor could lose.
Taking part would also make it much harder to oppose such a proposal for the next General Election and the last thing that Brown wants, surely, is to do something that might be regretted in 3-4 years time.
My initial thought when I started writing this piece was that the ever so cautious Brown would refuse. His aides could then put out the line that it would be wrong for what is an internal party matter to be made into a media circus.
Refusing would, of course, give huge ammunition to his opponents. The Tories and, no doubt, the ever-present Lembit Opik for the Lib Dems will also be on the sidelines looking for any opportunity to rubbish the contest and the contenders. After all if their men subjected themselves to such a process why not Brown?
A Brown blocking strategy could be to agree in principle to TV debates but try to set down rules which would be unacceptable to the broadcasters. Again the Tory and Lib Dem precedents might make this a hard argument to sustain but we’d hear lots about the party’s processes coming first.
But after further consideration I think that Brown would see the dangers of a refusal and eventually agree – winning great kudos for the decision.
If Brown was facing the second and third favourites in the betting – Johnson and Reid – it’s a moot point over who would come on top – though in pure debating terms it would be either Brown or Reid. Johnson would have the most to gain – extra visibility and the chance to enhance his “nice guy – member of the human race” image. His great sense of humour would surely win him friends.
For those who get pleasure from the whole spectacle of politics a series of TV debates between the challengers for No 10 is a mouth watering prospect. It would also be a great betting event. Let’s hope that it happens.