Mr Grant Shapps, the energetically-tweeting housing minister, says in a garishly optimistic message for 2011 that the answer is to self-build. This, I assumed, must be a new year’s resolution, though whether it referred to re-enrolling at the gym or lugging one’s equally unwilling bones down to B&Q was not so clear. I thought it could only be the latter when I saw that Mr Shapps has been taking his counsel from the National Shelf-Building Association, a body I would be less likely to join than the Piers Morgan Appreciation Society.   However, it happens that my mind’s eye had inserted an extra “h” and that it is, in fact, the self-building association Shapps has been talking to. The advice it has been proffering to the minister might, it transpires, turn out to have been somewhat parti pris.

Conflicts of interest notwithstanding, experts from this grisly gulag of hod-carriers are, it seems, to be asked to draw up an action plan preparing us all for the endeavour of building ourselves our own homes, possibly whether we want to or not. I am not sure I have ever met anybody who has built their own home, and the only precedent I can think of from history or literature – Thomas Hardy – is not a happy one: the sort of cheery soul who goes on to churn out Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Jude the Obscure and spends the rest of his life hanging round funerals is hardly an excellent advertisement for the joys of fixing in your own lintels.

Still, Conservative policy towards the homeless must have advanced somewhat from the days when Sir George Young, a less imaginative housing minister of his time, complained that these were the sort of people you had to step over on the way in and out of the opera. Now, if Shapps is to get his way, Sir George will have to pick a path between their foundations and drainage trenches.

It is, of course, the Big Society in action. Those post-war years when governments used to throw up thousands and thousands of council houses are past. Instead we are to be instilled with the confidence, the cash and the absence of planning regulations to do-it-ourselves. A small prize should go to the first person bold enough to turn up with plans for a bungalow in Mr Shapps’ back-garden and to knock on the door to see if he could see his way clear to advancing them a grant.

Thoughts of self-build came to mind too yesterday evening as I watched Labour’s shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie flail around on Newsnight for alternative tax-raising measures to the coalition’s despised hike in VAT. Since the Labour Party’s policy-making machinery is, rather like the housing programme, in a state of indefinite suspension, this was a subject requiring a fair amount of freelancing on Mr Leslie’s part. Naturally he defaulted to that current leftie favourite, the banking sector, a source, if socialists are to be believed, of almost infinite streams of tax revenue. Mr Leslie was, sure enough, short on details, though not so the website Left Futures who have plenty of ideas for how the bankers and their activities might be torched.

As ever with these babyish prescriptions, they rest on the jejune assumption that if you tax the rich into oblivion they will simply stand there dumbly and let you do it to them. The rich may be arrogant, unpleasant and aching for a slap, but they are not by and large oafishly credulous; nor, for all the foie gras they consume and pints of foaming peasants blood, are they incapable of movement. The idea that, as you hurl punch after punch at them, these fat cats might simply move out of the way tends not to occur to the utopian masterminds.

Perhaps the world would be a simpler, nicer, place if it were so; but it is not.  We shall instead have to content ourselves with the observation that the world is full of wicked wolves about which we can do little, save to build for ourselves four strong walls and a red-tiled roof to keep them out.