Gary Barlow gets pilloried – and then we throw our money at Starbucks

Did he lack Patience with tax returns? Or perhaps he got an accountant so he would Never Forget

 

Share

Flush-cheeked songster Gary Barlow is being harangued and maligned by a sturdy bunch of internet warriors – plus the MP Margaret Hodge – who aim to take back his OBE over his involvement with Icebreaker Management. Last week a judge ruled that the company was little more than a tax shelter into which £66m had been kept safe from fiscal paws.

Until now, I had no idea that there was such a Venn-diagram overlap between “Folk who admire the fair, meritocratic splendour of Her Majesty’s honours system and will not see its sanctity besmirched” and “Hardline anti-tax avoidance activists”, but I live and learn.

Barlow is a bad man, it turns out. Interestingly, it is Barlow alone who appears to be carrying the can for Icebreaker Management. Not his Take That brethren. Not lovely little Mark Owen. Not saucer-eyed scampish Mark with his little cherub face. Or Howard Donald – no one seems mad at him – although I always suspected Howard’s dreadlocks during the Nineties were a bid to suggest he was fully homeless as a tax-avoidance ruse. No, it’s Gary Barlow’s attempts to be more “tax efficient” that have caught the public’s attention.

I would worry more about Barlow’s psyche but I was lucky enough to catch the entire hour of prime-time Bank Holiday Monday scheduling devoted to the fact that Gary Barlow OBE is a survivor. On and on the documentary trundled, with friends and family wheeled out to breathlessly pay tribute to his tenacity. In brief: he piled on a load of weight and lost it all again.

It was a bewildering hour of videocamera footage featuring a fat man piling his plate at a buffet, accompanied by Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Deeply silly television, but it may explain why it’s currently so much fun for portions of the internet and media to give Mr Goody Two Shoes a solid drubbing. Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance is never forgotten, Bob Geldof’s non-dom status is never mentioned, The Rolling Stones spent the 1970s fleeing the tax man, yet this is the era in which they cemented their status as living legends. Ken Dodd kept cash under his bed, the silly, naive fool.

The public’s reaction to tax avoidance is confused and erratic, which isn’t surprising because so is the Government’s. I watched Cameron on Good Morning Britain when he was pushed to decry Barlow’s tax avoidance. On Saturday’s Today programme I heard George Osborne chatter excitedly about Britain’s “competitive” approach to business taxes. If Britain was truly disgusted by tax avoidance we could en masse boycott Google, Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Amazon and Top Shop in one grand majestic unilateral snub. As this involves minor personal consumer inconvenience, we help these companies prosper. We throw them our money and by turn they grow larger, more powerful, more efficient at being tax efficient.

Meanwhile, we pillory, sporadically, individuals over meetings held years ago with their accountant whose No 1 stipulation of employment was to make their client tax efficient within the wonky, ever-shifting boundaries of the law. I cannot become truly boggle-eyed about Barlow, Owen and Donald being advised in a meeting to use a brilliant, legally watertight scheme to shelter cash, and taking this advice largely because we employ accountants at a considerable cost to know the things we don’t.

It’s interesting that so many commentators believe that in this case they would leap from their padded, swirly office seat yelling, “How dare you suggest a tax reduction scheme? Yes, you say it’s legal but it’s ETHICALLY DUBIOUS! Let me pay more money than I need to! I need to know that the children’s wards of Britain have enough heart monitors.”

Meanwhile, there is no stigma attached to a self-employed person registering themselves as a Limited Company purely for the affable tax breaks and that yummy VAT kickback. All absolutely legal. Not evasion, just avoidance and borne from a time when the hardworking individual sat in their accountants office and thought – possibly petulantly – about how hard one had worked for the money and how they would like more of it kept for their kids, holiday, home improvements.

The funny thing about tax avoidance is we moan and moan and moan but, like Gary Barlow, we’ve all had our hands in the buffet.

Twitter: @gracedent

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?