Imagine an experiment to create fertile conditions for a far-right political party to thrive. You might start with an exhausted government. You would hang a pall of petty corruption over it - some systematic expenses fiddling, perhaps. Then you would throw in an economic crisis, high levels of immigration and a surge in unemployment. You would incubate the mix in a culture of contempt for mainstream politics.
No wonder Labour is worried about a surge in support for the British National party in local and European elections next month. As the Observer reports today, the ultra-nationalists look within reach of European parliamentary seats for the first time.
The BNP has often before hovered around the threshold of electoral breakthrough. The alarm is raised and the threat subsides. It is then argued that needless alarm advances the far-right cause; that the BNP thrives on publicity from panic-stricken liberals; that disapproval from Westminster burnishes their anti-establishment credentials; that they should be left to suffocate in media silence. That is not an option in the digital age. The BNP doesn't need mainstream media to get its message across. And it doesn't need any help persuading voters that their interests go unheeded by out-of-touch politicians in Westminster.
The BNP gets much more attention than other fringe parties because the doctrine of extreme nationalism is a nasty virus in the body politic. It cannot be ignored. It must be engaged and defeated.
That means raising the alarm to combat apathy. The proportional representation system in European elections means that tiny parties can do well out of a modest showing in a low overall turnout. Even a small increase in the numbers bothering to vote for other parties can put a cap on the far right's performance.
But the BNP also needs to be beaten with old-fashioned political argument. Its flimsy policies should be rebutted and its underlying motive - to foment fear and inter-racial tension - should be exposed. The BNP works hard to shed its skinhead image. Rule No 1 of its "language and concepts discipline manual" tells activists not to identify the party as "racist". Rule No 4 instructs them to obey the law. What kind of organisation needs to remind its members not to be thugs?
The BNP has traditionally submerged its "whites first" agenda in the language of economic opportunity. It has campaigned on crime, housing, education, jobs and links them all to immigration. It projects real policy concerns through a prism of race. That creates a tricky balancing act for local MPs who have to persuade voters that they are concerned about the problems without adopting the BNP's analysis of their cause.
It is true that many working-class white communities have fared badly under Labour. But that doesn't mean non-whites are winning at their expense. The idea that there is a fixed pool of success - that one person's gain is another's loss - is a basic fallacy in far-right thinking. But the BNP turns the shame of underachievement into an aggrieved sense of ethnic expropriation.
The same approach is now applied to the issue of MPs' expense claims. The public perception of a Westminster elite on the make allows the BNP to project itself as a party of anti-political outsiders. The race issue is thus submerged even deeper. But it is there. When the BNP claims to speak for "ordinary people" against the establishment, it still means "white people".
The best antidote to the far right would be a movement that aspires to represent everyone who feels disenfranchised, alienated, excluded, regardless of race; a movement that promotes solidarity among poorer voters instead of dividing them. It would speak with moral authority against a political system that looks, to many voters, grotesquely skewed in the interests of a narrow, wealthy elite.
That no Westminster party can credibly deliver such a message shames the government. It was once the job of the Labour Party.