Isn’t it Ironic?

the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

Oxford English Dictionary

Alanis Morrissette’s song “Ironic” has been subject to derision ever since its release in 1996. Sat in a Year 11 English lesson about dramatic irony some years ago, I was given a sheet of these lyrics to study and highlight the situations that were ironic. The irony of the situation, of course, is that none of the situations depicted in the song are technically ironic. The situations are actually just coincidence, some tragic, some infuriating; situations that merely depict a sequence of generally disappointing events being made worse by some other circumstance.

A “traffic jam when you’re already late” isn’t ironic unless you happen to be the Transport Secretary on the way to proudly talk about how effective your congestion alleviating policies have been.

“Meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife” isn’t ironic unless he happens to be the Health Secretary and you happen to have broken the social distancing rules that you helped him to formulate while having an affair.

An example of a genuinely ironic situation could be something like…

On the same day that MPs release a report condemning the Government’s initial response to the handling of a global as one of the worst failures in public health ever, the person in charge of deciding public health policy graciously accepts a new position from the UN as their special envoy to help economic recovery in Africa due to COVID-19

Apparently, in a completely unironic turn of events, The UN under-secretary-general, Vera Songwe, gave a statement praising Matt Hancock’s “success” in handling the UK’s pandemic response and affirming that it was a “testament to the strengths he would bring to the role.”

I must admit, my head dropped onto my desk as I read that sentence. Earth-shattering impulses ripped apart my neural pathway as my brain cells went into overdrive trying to comprehend the sheer lack of awareness from the, no doubt, countless number of people involved in making this appointment.

As far as I’m aware, international organisations strive for cooperation, to pool our knowledge and resources and to ensure peace, all while respecting each state’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, there appears to be a rather large and empty hole within this knowledge. A tragic injustice has occurred. No one at the UN was informed of Matt Hancock’s COVID track record. Clearly, an informational crisis has taken place and the UN will be presented with the further necessary information it requires in choosing an envoy of this type.

Forgive my sarcasm but it is an instrumental tool in my ability to accept and cope with the news I have read.

My mind is cast back to Tony Blair’s appointment as a middle east peace envoy. Obviously, this job had nothing to do with Iraq as part of its remit, it was in fact, part of ongoing mediation of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The irony, of course, centred squarely on the concept that Tony Blair, who is still branded by many as a war criminal today, was now in the business of promoting peace right next to the region that was still absolutely reeling from decisions he made as the British Prime Minister.

Some might claim that this was his redemption arc, a chance to change his legacy to one more positive (which ultimately failed). So is this Matt Hancock’s chance at redemption?


We can read the decision of this appointment over and over again. We can question its validity, whether the role is more of a “non-role” where no real decisions get made and Hancock gets to make himself feel a little bit better. We can question the integrity of the UN in making this decision, is it now simply a refuge for the global political elite, where outcasts are welcomed in and given a shiny new role to sponge away any moral wrongdoings?

Ultimately, the response to this appointment has been one characterised by outrage and fury. Some have asked, rather wryly, what Africa did to deserve Matt Hancock’s intervention. Others simply feel disgusted. People in this country are mourning loved ones who died as a result of the UK’s pandemic response. Without wishing to dwell on Hancock’s private affair, to be embroiled in such a scandal while mourners sit socially distanced at a funeral, unable to offer a physical gesture like a hug, there is justification to the anger surrounding what some view to be a promotion.

Given the push from MPs such as David Lammy to bring forward the official public enquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic, something Matt Hancock will without a doubt be called up to bring evidence in, this country vents its rage towards yet another ironic situation.

A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.

Oxford English Dictionary

As a result, I still laugh when I read the responses to news like this:

Because at this stage, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

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