As Marx observed after Louis Napoleon seized power in 1850, in a toy-town repeat of the great Bonaparte's earlier coup: History repeats itself "first as tragedy, then as farce". The same thought came to mind on hearing Lord Charlie of the Ivory Dome's announcement that prefabs were the answer to the housing crisis.

I am old enough to remember the first prefabs and the shame that people felt if they had to live in one, but I have not forgotten either the tragedy that necessitated their construction: the Blitz, the post-war housing shortages, the desperate economic conditions in the early days of the Cold War.

The contrast with today could hardly be greater. Britain is the fourth largest economy in the world, yet our politicians are so afraid of allowing proper houses to be built that they seek to reinvent the prefab, the symbol of those dark days. They are afraid to let the houses be built because it would mean using some green fields.

For ministers facing up to the housing shortage, anything is preferable to the only real solution: building enough homes over the next 20 years and bringing prices in line with those of 1938, when housebuilders built homes profitably at the equivalent of £20,000 in today's prices.

This announcement cannot contribute in any way to solving the key worker part of the housing problem that ministers have decided to acknowledge. It is the classic announcement from which nothing will follow, except a feeling that "something is being done".

It is based on the proposition that publicly owned land will be made available for free. But how does that square with the rules on disposal of public assets? And how will central government prise it away from cash-strapped councils?

But, equally, it patronises the people it pretends to help. Why should teachers, nurses or policemen have to rent prefabs? As teachers' unions rightly say, their members want to be part of the property-owning democracy, not singled out for special help.