One of my friends was murdered last week...
Everything that you have read or heard on the news about Jo Cox is true. She was bright and bubbly, clever, determined and hard-working. She really was, well, just nice. Nice to be with, nice to bump into in the corridors of Westminster, and nice to catch-up with in the Tea Room.
Last Tuesday night, some of us went for an evening at Jo's house in London. In fact, it is a barge moored on the Thames. When we arrived at the dock, her three-year-old daughter scurried bare-foot up the gangway to open the security door, then scurried back to her mum all excitedly. If this column is more emotional than usual, then it is because I keep thinking about those two small children of Jo's. They are the most important ones here.
That evening we did daft things, like chucking food to the family of coots nesting on her dock; and earnest things, like she and I huddling in a corner in a serious conversation about the state of politics, and tragically about optimism and pessimism for the future. But it was not a discussion tinged with a lust for power, but with a genuine desire for fairness and social justice - both here in Britain and also abroad. Jo, like many of us, wanted a world that works for everyone.
If that sounds idealistic then I plead guilty, as would Jo. She genuinely cared and genuinely wanted a better world and a stronger, fairer Britain.
I draw two lessons from these horrible few days.
First of all, the denigration of politics and politicians must stop. The angry, bullying, hate-filled divisive politics must have no place in our democratic process. I have always tried to treat people decently and that is how I want to be treated myself. Politics should not have room for personal abuse and we must respect people even if we disagree with them.
I will continue to represent all my constituents equally, and I will pass on their views to government even if I do not share them. I will continue to hold weekly surgeries in town and across the constituency where any constituent can drop by for help or to tell me their views: you cannot do this job if you are not willing to sit, listen and understand. That is what I will always do.
But secondly, the response from the huge majority of people in Chester has been wonderful and overwhelming. The emails from friends and strangers; from members of all three main parties; people stopping me in the street to express their sadness, their horror or their condolences. Even the person who left flowers on the steps of my office. People know that this was an attack on a mother and also an attack on our democracy.
To them all I say thank you.
So my plea is simple: reject the preachers of hate and division, and remember, as my friend Jo famously said: “there is more that unites us than divides us”.
And next time you are out and about in Chester, take a moment to look around. The chances are, you will see a lot of good, decent, tolerant people. That is the real Britain and we should never forget it.