We Need a General Election to Deliver a Mandate for the Future

27/06/2016 17:43 | Updated 27 June 2016

I was asked yesterday morning by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky Television if we are in a state of political crisis.

That's clearly not really in question any more.

The people of Britain made a decision on Thursday that they wanted to leave the European Union, not by a large majority, but a clear one.

But there is no certainty, hardly any idea, of what comes next.

The Leave campaigns did not present a manifesto, even much of a picture, of what they envisaged would be our new relationship with Europe. The European Economic Area (the Norway model for shorthand), got some mentions, the very different World Trade Organisation model others, with various vague ideas floated in between.

And they are Leavers frantically back-pedalling on apparent "promises" on the NHS, to name just one area.

With 48% of people voting for the status quo in our relationship with Europe, and many of the Leavers clearly not wanting major changes - there's no clear direction from the public. There hasn't even been a proper public debate.

With the young pitted against the old, Scotland and London pitted against most of the rest of England, Wales against Northern Ireland - there's real division that needs to be healed.

With many voting not really against Brussels, but Westminster - the answers to the way forward don't just lie in our relationship with Europe.

The Tory government manifesto on which David Cameron was elected (albeit it with the support of only 24% of eligible voters) last May is now entirely irrelevant. We are now in a different Britain.

David Cameron himself is going. The Tories will have a new leader in October. In the meantime, Cameron is a lame-duck caretaker. Our Chancellor has largely disappeared from public view.

And the Labour Party is now in a state of uncertainty.

If there's one thing Britain is not now ready to do it is to start negotiations about the shape of our future relationship with the European Union.

What we need is calm and time for reflection, not knee-jerk reactions. Despite the imperative of the half-hour Twitter news cycle, and the pressure to take definitive steps, what we really need is time for what's happened to sink in, then sober consideration of what comes next.

It is critically important that we resist pressure to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty from European states and institutions and the financial markets. This is something we must not be bounced into. It is legally our decision, and one we can put off until the people's wishes are clearer, until we've cleaned up our democracy.

Before negotiations start, we need to know what we're asking for.

That has to mean a General Election - that's the only way we can reach a mandate on a way forward. We'd have a minimum period of months (the earliest practical date would be early November) to debate, discuss, inform voters, who'll then be able to weigh up the offers by various parties.

There was widespread dissatisfaction with the nature and quality of the referendum debate - this time the pressure will be on the media and politicians to do much better.

And it won't be achieved through the contest for the leadership of one or more of the largest parties - that's inevitably going to be far too tied up in personalities rather than policies.

One offer that will certainly be in the Green Party's manifesto for any election is electoral reform. It's clearly been an issue in this referendum that many voters have through the experience of our first-past-the-post electoral system come to think that their vote doesn't count, won't actually have an impact.

And the dissatisfaction with the status quo in this election is clearly closely related to the failures of our current electoral system, which disenfranchises the majority, who don't get the representation they want.

There's been growing cross-party support and strong civil society campaigns. We need an election to deliver a way forward for Britain - and a fair voting system to deliver a government that truly reflects, and delivers on, the will of the people.

What we need above all is for a chance for the people to decide, after a full, honest, open debate. To deliver that, we need a people's government, not the tottering 19th-century structure we have now.