How deep are your pockets?

All this time I thought Gary Barlow did the singing in Take That. Turns out he was on the fiddle.

Michael Moran (@TheMichaelMoran)

Yes, Gary Barlow. Good old Bary Garlow. Beefcake hunk for a million middle-aged women. Uber-patriot. Singer of songs in honour of HM. Doer of great charitable deeds.

And tax avoider of the highest order.

Not tax evader. No, that would involve outright criminality. Gary and his Take That buddies’ “crime” is one of morality – or lack thereof.

Two years ago, Jimmy Carr acknowledged he’d made a terrible error of judgment when it was revealed he’d invested in a – legal – tax shelter to minimise his tax liability. David Cameron even said such schemes were morally wrong.

Interesting that, considering Mr Cameron’s own family fortune was built in offshore tax havens in schemes specially designed by his own father. But hey, we’re in a “do as I say, not as I do” kinda world now.

Today Mr Cameron has been a lot less vocal on the question of the morality or otherwise of Gary Barlow’s tax affairs but was quick to kibosh the demand that Barlow hand back his OBE. And that’s fair enough. After all he got the gong for his charitable work and “services to music” so nowt to do with his tax affairs.

Oh wait. Charitable work? Like for Children in Need where groups desperate for cash to improve the lives of the poor, neglected, sick and disabled are forced to rely on handouts because the state says its coffers are empty?

And if its coffers are empty, it is surely partly because of legitimate tax avoidance schemes and tax loopholes exploited by clever corporations and the wealthy.

And we’re talking very wealthy – you don’t get a tax bill of £20million without having earned a whole lot more (arithmetic isn’t my strong point so I won’t attempt to guess exactly how much).

I’ve never been much of a fan of the music of Take That or Gary Barlow. My indifference to him hardened into mild dislike when he went campaigning for the Tories in 2010. He struck me then as one of those folks who, once they’ve made it, express disbelief that others can’t just do the same, implying a moral failing on the part of those stuck in poverty or dead-end lives.

Let’s be honest – no one likes paying tax. We’re soaked for it from every angle, direct and indirect – VAT on stuff we buy, airport taxes whenever we fly, stamp duty on houses bought over a certain amount, council tax to pay for local services, duty on booze and fags.

Ouch, ouch and ouch again.

But taxes are part of the social contract of the nation. Without people contributing their share – their FAIR share – the whole societal edifice comes crumbling down.

Doing the rounds on Twitter recently has been this quote from US Senator Elizabeth Green. What she’s saying ain’t rocket science but sometimes some people need a reminder of what’s important.


Watching big businesses like Amazon, Google and Starbucks making a mockery of our tax laws should surely rile even the most libertarian of voters.

Sadly, mostly we just shrug our shoulders and say – as we tend to do about politicians, too – well, they’re all the same.

Perhaps a little more anger and a little less apathy might persuade serial tax avoiders like Mr Barlow and his ilk to think about how their actions are perceived outwith their wealthy bubble.

A generation or so ago, drink driving was one of those crimes that many people admitted committing – a few pints down the pub, into the Cortina and drive the few miles home. It took a large number of road deaths to prompt a series of hard-hitting ad campaigns that turned what was once socially acceptable into an act that today invites opprobrium and public shame.

We need to do the same with tax avoidance and avoiders. This is a matter of morality, not criminality. But it is no less important for that.

I’ll leave you with the words of JK Rowling, a woman who will never have to worry about where her next pair of shoes are coming from. Despite a personal fortune nudging her towards billionaire status, Jo Rowling understands the importance of tax and the social contract.

She demonstrates a humility and morality Mr Barlow and his mates could learn lessons from.


Update: In today’s Times online (subscription required, I’m afraid), there is this headline:

Stars shamed into paying tax

See? One blog from a chippy Scotswoman and they’re running scared …

The shame game

Well done Jimmy Carr.

Revealed by a Times investigation to be a multi-million pound beneficiary of a legal tax avoidance scheme, Jimmy has made a smart retreat from his original “not a penny more, not a penny less” position.

This morning he took to Twitter to apologise for his “terrible error of judgment” and to announce he was withdrawing from the K2 scheme and would henceforth “conduct my financial affairs much more responsibly”.

Nice u-turn, Jimmy, and like one of your gags, beautifully timed.

I’m not a fan of Carr’s humour, though I can appreciate that he’s a smart and clever guy. I rarely watch his shows and have no clue as to his political leanings, if indeed he has any.

But as I said, kudos to him for his reaction to this very public flaying.

We might accept that he wasn’t doing anything illegal by salting his millions away in an offshore trust.

But Carr was smart enough to realise quickly that the vast majority also believe it’s morally dodgy for the super rich to be blatantly taking the piss while the rest of us suffer through austerity, recession and depression.

He also knows he’s alienating a very large section of the audience who pay big bucks to watch his live shows. So yes, a smart move, probably motivated more by business than by shame.

But he was publicly shamed. And he didn’t like it. So he did something about it. And I quite like that someone that rich, that famous can still react in this way instead of sticking two fingers up to public opinion and giving it the “let them eat cake” routine.

It’s all-too-rare behaviour. We no longer expect our politicians, civil leaders, churchmen or celebrities to show even the slightest hint of any embarrassment, never mind shame, when their bad behaviour is exposed.

Twas ever thus, I can hear you say, and you’re probably right.

But three cheers for Jimmy Carr for belatedly doing the right thing.

And remember not only was he excoriated on Twitter by his peers and fans, he was also taken to task by the arch hypocrite David Cameron who called the tax avoidance scheme in which Carr participated “morally wrong” yet hadn’t had “time” to examine the equally repugnant tax affairs of that well-known Tory and royal groveller Gary Barlow.

That’s the same David Cameron whose family fortune came from this

Perhaps Jimmy Carr will start a trend of contrition among public leaders shamed by their actions. I won’t hold my breath.