Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
The current pace of political life is so fierce, and the news cycles so short, that there has been something truly welcome and very necessary about having time away over the summer from the usual pace of events for reflection.
There is nothing heroic about failing to take time out and standing back from the noise of every day life. Every problem and situation benefits from a period of mulling it over and, even better, not thinking about it for a while. It is amazing how often a solution appears obvious after thinking about something else, which also has the benefit of leaving us more refreshed and raring to return to the fray.
Winston Churchill had his painting and pond building at Chartwell. As I discovered this summer, Ronald Reagan enjoyed spending time chopping logs and building walls at Rancho del Cielo even when he was leader of the free world. Even Margaret Thatcher is believed to have stopped to watch Yes Minister.
Earlier this summer I was asked to take part in a discussion on national television about whether Theresa May should be going on holiday this year or not. I declined. It is certainly true, as the Prime Minister herself jokes, that the danger of her walking holidays is that she plans election campaigns on them. But to think that our senior leaders aren’t entitled and won’t benefit from the chance to check out briefly and gain some perspective is madness.
If time away also involves spending that time with family and friends, then so much the better. Hopefully they can remind us that all the issues we’ve been grappling with aren’t being obsessed over by everyone else, and children provide a valuable grounding for all of us.
The chance to read a whole newspaper and entire books, from cover to cover, is to be relished when life usually consists of scanning the headlines, the main points in emails and the summaries in briefing documents.
Even better, the ability to read books which entertain or educate us in something other than our immediate life experiences is a tremendous pleasure and opportunity. And then the chance to reflect on any points of wisdom in the books, whether doing so on a Cornish beach, Spanish sun lounger or Lake District fell, makes this an opportunity not to be missed.
One of the lessons I drew from from visiting schools educating for character, which I tried to capture in my book Taught not Caught: Educating for 21st Century Character, was the practice they all encouraged of self-reflection in their pupils. Whether that reflection was about comments received on a piece of work or lessons learnt from co-curricular activities, the schools expected pupils of all ages to be able to analyse what happened, what went well, what needs to improve and how they are going to act on that reflection.
The ability to hold a mirror up to ourselves and our work is incredibly important and not given nearly enough prominence or encouragement in our 21st Century lives.
Normal political service is resumed in Westminster next week. In some ways political news hasn’t really stopped over the summer, but neither have things really moved on. So in the same way I hope that we won’t forget our summers immediately I also hope that, for the sake of UK politics this autumn, we will continue to create a bit of space, recall the pleasure of having time to think and breathe and take just a little longer to think things through than we were doing.