London correspondent Sarah Lyall, who wields a freer stylistic hand in her London dispatches that reporters on this side of the Atlantic, goes after the Conservative Party in England in both personal and ideological terms in Tuesday's strange choice for a front-page piece, "As Party Fights Elite Image, Tory Puts Posh Foot in Mouth."
What could be more embarrassing for a party trying to change its elitist image than the existence of someone like Sir Nicholas Winterton? A Conservative member of Parliament for the last 39 years, Sir Nicholas wandered disastrously off message recently when he decided to share his thoughts on why legislators should be allowed to travel first class to avoid exposure to the common man.
"They are a totally different type of people," Sir Nicholas declared in a radio interview, speaking about the relative ghastliness of people in standard-class train cars. "There's lots of children, there's noise, there's activity. I like to have peace and quiet when I'm traveling."
As Labour supporters gleefully disseminated "LOL"-annotated links, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, moved swiftly to register his lack of appreciation for Sir Nicholas's philosophy. Still, with an election looming, it was a reminder yet again of how difficult it has been for the Tories to shake off a past that a fair number of them still seem to embrace.
Mr. Cameron, whose party is leading Labour in the most recent polls, has made it his mission to drag the Conservatives - kicking and screaming, if necessary - away from their old chilly image as a stuffy bastion of the elite, the mean-spirited, the entitled and the clueless.
Lyall gave Cameron credit for "a good makeover job" on the party, which translated into taking liberal social policy positions:
Mr. Cameron has done a good makeover job in some ways, starting with himself. Answering to "Dave" and wearing jeans and open-necked shirts, Mr. Cameron comes across as modern, sympathetic and approachable.
He supports gay and minority rights, changes (or claims he does) the diapers of his young children and rides a bicycle around town (although his limousine was once spotted being driven behind his bicycle, carting his briefcase).
In the eyes of many Britons, the Tories' traditional social elitism is tied to another form of elitism - what they perceive as the callous policies of the haves toward the have-nots in the Thatcher era. That was when the Conservative government cut social spending and pursued an anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-union agenda.
Mr. Cameron's efforts to move past that, too, have been thrown off track by the financial crisis. Reacting to Britain's deficit last fall by preaching fiscal austerity, the Tories found themselves once more in the position of grim spoilsports eager to cut government programs.
With allegedly objective journalists referring to fiscal conservatives as "grim spoilsports," it's no wonder no government has the courage to actually cut public spending, even with perilously high deficits.
Back in December, Lyall ran another opinion-style news piece on Ireland's fiscal woes, ignoring the economic reality of the country's heavy debt to complain that Dublin had "added to the general misery in this shellshocked city by releasing its harshest budget in generations."