August is traditionally known in the British media as the silly season. This is because with Parliament in recess and so many people away on holiday, there can sometimes be a dearth of domestic news and newspapers are reduced to filling their columns with with silly stories.

There are plenty of unlikely stories doing the rounds this August, but some of them happen to be true. Thus the England cricket team has trounced the Australians, and a rank outsider is making headlines with a surprisingly successful run in the Labour Party's leadership contest.

Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn appears well ahead with constituency partiesGetty

That man is Jeremy Corbyn, a 66-year-old veteran left-wing Labour MP, who dominates the news almost every day and seems to have excelled himself over the weekend by raising the possibility of restoring a highly controversial commitment to the Labour Party's constitution.

That commitment was known as Clause Four and was thought to have been buried for ever in a dramatic move by Tony Blair shortly after he became leader of the Labour Party in 1994.

It was the commitment to nationalise "the means of production, distribution and exchange". It dated from the early 20th century and had long fallen into desuetude by the time Blair made his move.

Now, as I say, this is the silly season. The headline on the weekend story was Corbyn: I'll Bring Back Clause Four. On further examination, his remarks turned out to have been more nuanced.

In answer to a leading question about whether he wanted "to restore Clause Four", what he actually said was: "I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that's restoring Clause Four as it was originally written or it's a different one. But we shouldn't shy away from public participation, public investment in industry, and public control of the railways."

Now, there is so much dissatisfaction with the nation's privatised rail system – which still requires extensive taxpayer support – that there is probably a lot of public sympathy for Corbyn's position on this. But headlines can be damaging, especially exaggerated ones.

I suspect Corbyn has exposed a flank to his enemies, many of whom are in his own party. It could be that his campaign has now peaked. But at the height of the silly season, I am not making any forecasts.


William Keegan is a journalist, academic, and the senior economics commentator at The Observer. He has published his latest work – Mr Osborne's Economic Experiment - Austerity 1945-51 and 2010 (published by Searching Finance) – which can be purchased on Amazon.