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

Recruitment Genius: Business Support Administrator - Part Time

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the South West'...

Recruitment Genius: Secretary

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This major European Intellectual Propert...

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - 9-12 Months

£14500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Accounts Assistant is immedi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: Calling black people 'coloured' removes part of their humanity

Yemisi Adegoke
 

Dippy the Diplodocus: The great exotic beast was the stuff of a childhood fantasy story

Charlie Cooper
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness