In 1969 John Lennon returned his MBE “in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against ‘Cold Turkey’ slipping down the charts”. If tax-avoiding Gary Barlow answered calls to return his honour (an OBE), he would become the second most famous musician to do so, and it would be less a case of cold turkey than humble pie.
Barlow has quite a reputation to defend. As one-fifth of Take That, he was part of a music phenomenon that were in some ways the Beatles of the early 1990s. Latterly, on top of his career as an X Factor judge, he has come to be seen as a servant of the Establishment. He was the devoted chief enabler of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace in 2012, and his OBE duly materialised at the end of that year. In unkinder quarters he became a byword for obsequiousness, which is why a lack of integrity over his financial arrangements is so damaging for him.
While Barlow ponders the value of the support of the Prime Minister – returning the OBE was “not necessary”, David Cameron said, on account of Barlow’s extensive charity work – fans can make their own calculation as to whether to still buy his records or tickets to see him perform.
Public disquiet over tax avoidance translates into consumer behaviour that no transgressor can ignore. According to a 2013 ComRes survey, 34 per cent of Britons said they were boycotting the products or services of a company does not pay its fair share of tax in the UK.
Corporate shame of an Amazon kind is one thing. For an individual it is quite another, as the comedian Jimmy Carr discovered two years ago when he was exposed as a tax-avoider and admitted that he had “made a terrible error of judgement”. Barlow’s name was linked with tax avoidance at the same time as Carr’s, but he survived the controversy – until now.
Whether Barlow keeps his OBE or hands it back hardly matters. The damage has been done. And if the heat he is feeling causes others to reconsider their dubious tax arrangements, then so much the better.Reuse content