We have all been transfixed by the unravelling of the world financial system and its impact on the wider economies of nations.
The extraordinary stupidity of banks in pumping up the bubble of credit was surely only matched in scale by the greed of those same bankers.
The stories have surfaced over the weeks: loans to house buyers of 125 per cent of the property price; potential mortgagers self-certifying their income levels. In the US, loans were made to hard-pressed people who then had to hold down three jobs to make the repayments. All of this was about as sustainable as the 18th century South Sea Bubble.
While this was brewing, senior bankers worldwide were awarding themselves billions of pounds in bonuses, driving further irresponsible practices.
The tragedy is that families and businesses, now and into the future, will pay the price.
Like its counterparts in other countries, our government has been trying to shore up banks in different ways - injecting capital and exhorting them to lend - to oil the wheels of the economy and maintain activity and jobs.
It has also taken some other, more direct, steps to help revive the economy. The time must now be right to bring forward major public investment projects that are aimed at meeting real social needs, producing assets for the future, helping reduce carbon emissions and create jobs.
So I am encouraged that the role of councils in getting new homes built has been recognised by Gordon Brown and housing minister Margaret Beckett. I hope that across the country local authorities will start to step up and begin building schemes.
I am sure that there will be many models created by councils and their partners, but the essence must be building high-quality homes to meet people’s needs and aspirations, which are also energy and water efficient. That must take priority over private developers’ bottom lines.
There are other hallmarks which I believe must be exhibited in such developments. We must nurture thriving, mixed-tenure communities, not soulless estates. Direct involvement from councils in development is a practical way to breathe life into place making.
It is also essential that local authorities in this process maintain an ownership stake, so that long-term returns can be captured for their communities from the developments and accountability to democratically elected councils for the management of the homes and public areas is fostered.
My own council, Barking & Dagenham in London, has been doing some trailblazing work ahead of the government’s announcement, establishing a Local Housing Company. There is now an opportunity for a genuine renaissance, for councils around the country to take a role in housing delivery.
These are strange times, but perhaps if we can collectively have the confidence to seize the moment, something lasting and beneficial for people can be achieved that will hopefully outlive bankers’ bonuses.
It is a supreme paradox that just as we eventually appear on the verge of a proper framework for council house building, we also have to mark the passing of Alan Walter - the stalwart of Defend Council Housing.
Everyone in the Labour Party knew and respected Alan. In many respects, the fourth option battles for direct public investment in council housing run within and beyond the party were some of the most effective political campaigns of the last decade.
Alan and his comrades worked tirelessly with MP Austin Mitchell to keep the flame alive.
They organised resolutions and newsletters, evidence sessions at the House of Commons, and mobilised the coalitions that regularly defeated the party’s hierarchy at its annual conference.
Alan was tough but fair. His knowledge and political intelligence meant he would run rings around his opponents.
His political agenda was never informed by malice, but always maintained a humour and warmth. His energy was legendary - he literally would be at every meeting you attended.
With the housing market in crisis - 5 million in need of social housing, house prices in free fall and the private rented sector in desperate need of wholesale reform - it has taken the global crisis to focus attention on re-establishing a mixed economy for housing supply here in the UK.
Alan saw the irony of the renewed interest shown in council housing. This country bet the farm that the private sector would meet our housing needs and as it has catastrophically failed, it is the government that must step in.
If it wasn’t so tragic it would be funny.
A bright future lies ahead for council housing. But when it was unfashionable, when New Labour turned its back, Alan Walter kept the very idea alive. He was a great housing and Labour activist and will be remembered as such.
Jon Cruddas is Labour MP for Dagenham