Last night’s LBC Women Leaders’ Debate debate took a lot of planning. It all started back in February when my producer Jagruti Dave sidled up to me and said ’wouldn’t it be a good idea to do a women’s debate during the general election campaign’, seeing as all the other debates would probably only involve men. Well, it hasn’t quite turned out like that as there were three women involved in the debate last week, but that didn’t negate the idea at all. It had never been done before on radio and I thought if we could come up with a new format it would be something which could form a key part of the election campaign.

Anyway, we put the idea to our colleagues and they said ‘go with it’. The original idea was to involve seven female political leaders including Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood and to hold it in Edinburgh, but for reasons I won’t bore you with it couldn’t happen. So we then decided to do it with representatives from the four main parties and do it in our brand new, and very glitzy, studios in Leicester Square. Ofcom have classed the Conservatives, Labour, LibDems and UKIP as major parties so they all had to be included. If we included one of the smaller parties, we’d have had to include them all. In any case, they are only four guest mics in the new studio.

So, we then thought about who to invite. Ideally we wanted to have the most senior female politician in each party and that’s by and large what we ended up with. It’s true that Theresa May outranks Nicky Morgan, but Nicky has the equalities and women’s brief. Suzanne Evans was due to take part, as UKIP’s most senior woman, but she had lost her voice and was replaced by the very impressive Diane James, who is an MEP, the UKIP justice spokeswoman and did so well in the Eastleigh by-election. I don’t think anyone would argue that Harriet Harman and Lynne Featherstone aren’t the most senior female politicians in their parties.

Then came the format. I was very keen for it not to be question after question after question. So I came up with the idea that the participants should all be allowed to quiz each other. I’d seen it happen in an American Primary debate many years ago and it worked brilliantly. We called it ‘Ask Me Anything’, where one of the candidates would be quizzed by the other three for five minutes. So we dotted these four sessions throughout the hour and a half and it worked really well, apart from the fact that unlike the callers all four of the candidates have trouble asking concise questions! We did ask them to pre-prepare their questions and let us have sight of them so that we could avoid duplication. Anyway, the consensus afterwards was that this format worked really well and brought something new to the genre of election debates.

Obviously, holding this debate in a radio studio meant that we couldn’t have a live audience, apart from the people listening or watching via the website, so then we had to decide how to pose questions. We set up a page on the LBC website for people to email in questions and loads did. We then phoned them back to arrange a time for them to come on. We did have one or two campaigns try to push their particular causes, but this programme was for ordinary people to ask their questions, not organised campaigns.

The day itself didn’t get off to a good start when we learned that Suzanne Evans had lost her voice. Luckily her UKIP colleague Diane James was available to step in. I’m not quite sure what we’d have done had she not been available. And then in the early afternoon a member of Harriet Harman’s staff phoned to say that Harriet was under the weather and she had gone home to have a rest. Could things get any worse? Anyway, half an hour later a phone call came to say that Harriet would definitley be joining us. She was a real trooper and was clearly suffering a bit, but I thought she did incredibly well all things considering.

So what’s it like hosting a debate like this? Funnily enough, I wasn’t at all nervous. I was confident we had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s in our preparation and I knew what I wanted to achieve. The fact that I was also hosting my normal show for three hours before the debate started meant that I didn’t really have any time to get nervous. It helped that we covered three topics which provoked some very spiky calls. I also gave our regular caller Cuban Tony a good going over, which was particularly enjoyable.

I had decided that my role should be an incidental one. I am fed up with debate moderators who insert themselves into the format too much because for many of them it will be the highlight of their careers. I thought the moderator of the STV debate on Monday fell into that trap. He seemed to talk almost as much as the politicians. I adopted a very simple rule: allow the candidates to speak and allow them to challenge each other. Only intervene when there’s a reason to, to challenge and press for a more direct answer. I haven’t watched the whole thing back yet, but I hope I achieved that. Presenters of these type of shows should realise they are merely facilitators. It’s not all about them.

Was the whole thin tokenistic? Clearly some people will have thought it was. After all, if we do a women’s debate, why not do a men’s debate. or a gay debate, or an ethnic minority debate? Why not indeed. The whole point is that these debates have traditionally been between men, and men only. I certainly didn’t want to host a debate just on women-only issues as I do think that would be tokenistic. Sure we’d include a couple of questions with a female tinge to them, but otherwisewe wanted to fill the debate with mainstream questions from across the range of subjects you’d expect, and a couple you may not. I think we did that. We started off with Islamic extremism, we covered defence and foreign policy too unlike any of the other debates. And just as I suspected, the dynamic was very different. It may have been nothing to do with the fact the particpants were all female, it may have to been to do with the fact it was in a studio and no studio audience. Whatever the reason was, the dynamic was different and it worked. Several media commentators and journalists confirmed that afterwards.

Overall, I think there were more spicy moments in this than I thought there might have been. The media pickup has centred on Nicky Morgan’s defence of Michael Fallon, Harriet Harman refusing to rule out a rise in fuel duty and Diane James’s praise of Vladimir Putin.

This piece in the Mirror is good, except for the bit about me having a face for radio :).

I have to say, for the Mirror to say that makes me very proud. They haven’t exactly been fans of mine in the past.

A lot of people put in a huge amount of effort into this event, not least my two producers Jagruti Dave and Matt Harris. If this debate is considered a success it really is down to them. And thanks to James Rea and Tom Cheal for believing in the idea and supporting it.

You can watch the whole debate here. Scroll in 4 mins 50 to avoid the adverts.