I once spent several days grinding the rust of my old Mini car and carefully rubbing down the applied filler before re-spraying it and polishing it. I even vacuumed (not with a Dyson!) the interior and to be fair, it looked pretty tidy when I sold it. However, whatever the cosmetics, it was still, fundamentally, just another rusty old car given a makeover.
So, when I see governments, whatever their colour, trying to present policy via three word slogans or making statements which deliberately seek to mislead and deceive I get the feeling they are just trying to ‘put lipstick on a pig.’ All the false optimism, the obviation of information, evasion, denial and deflection cannot avoid a feeling that truth and real accountability are being hidden by a cheap layer of paint. A wanton refusal to answer questions and a willingness to deliberately mislead leads to a government flirting with populism rather than dealing seriously with serious issues.
I think I made a more through and honest job of ‘doing up’ my old Mini than this government has with their dishonest ‘paint jobs’! In any case, the person who bought my old Mini had actually seen me ‘doing it up’ all weekend and said,
“You’ve worked hard and done it up so well, I’d like to buy it for my daughter who has just passed her test.”
The reference to ‘pigs and lipstick’ is maybe unfair on the noble animal. The use of pigs in idioms has a long history but the phrase was apparently first reported in 1985 when The Washington Post quoted a San Francisco radio host from KNBR remarking “That would be like putting lipstick on a pig”, in reference to plans to refurbish Candlestick Park (rather than constructing a new stadium for the San Francisco Giants).
The act of making superficial changes to the way behaviour is portrayed can have implications on important values. When integrity is ignored and honesty is lost, then trust in government and government responsibility sits in a potentially dangerous vacuum. With so many lies, so much cronyism and so much unelected influence, national and international trust in the UK government is being undermined directly by the actions, choices and words of Boris Johnson.
The question is, knowing what we know, ‘would you even buy a second hand car from this man?’