Revolver: Taxing matters for Take That – and others

‘Pop stars have about as much respect for tax laws as they have for their fans’

Gary Barlow:  makes One Direction look like Maoist revolutionaries

Gary Barlow: makes One Direction look like Maoist revolutionaries

 

Thank God for Lily Allen. She was the first, and so far only, musician to call Gary Barlow out for plunging tens of millions into a tax avoidance scheme. She also implied that Barlow will not have to give back his OBE because of his I-love-the-Queen-and-I-do-loads-for-charidee status and will not face sanction because of his close ties with David Cameron and the British Conservative Party.

There is something very wrong when the leader of a political party that has overseen huge council and public service cuts can say at a political rally: “If you feel down, if you feel depressed, listen to Take That’s Greatest Day, it’s a fantastic song to lift you up,” as Cameron once did.

It’s some feat to make the half-humans, half-dolls in One Direction look like Maoist revolutionaries but Barlow and Cameron have managed it. The British-Irish boyband shocked everyone (and probably even themselves after they the press release was translated for them) when they recently called on their global army of followers to lobby the UK Chancellor, George Osborne, to crack down on corporate tax avoidance. The exact thing that Gary Barlow has been done for.

One Direction went on to make the important point that people benefitting from tax avoidance impact on how much any country devotes to their international aid budget. This was a crucial point as it’s why Bono attracted so much flak a few years ago. Bono was arguing on the one hand that all developed countries need to meet and/or increase the amount they put into international aid, but the other hand he was accused of depriving the Irish state of some of his own taxes by availing of a lower rate in the Netherlands for part of his income.

It might have helped though if, before 1D climbed up on their high horse, they paused for a moment to consider that they, as a band, take advantage of Ireland’s corporate tax structure to manage their earnings.

You could write a book on famous musicians and tax avoidance/tax exile. Because the industry is so volatile – you can go from signing on at the start of the week to becoming a millionaire at the end of it – the one thing musicians do when the money comes rolling in is to leg it to a “more conducive tax environment”. Marc Bolan, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones all became tax exiles in their time.

Nobody mentioned in this article has done anything illegal, but there is a thin line between legal tax avoidance and what’s known as “aggressive tax avoidance” which most people judge to be wrong.

All of this would be relatively okay if most of the people mentioned in this article hadn’t, at some time or the other, wrecked our heads with their look-at-me-I’m-so-caring appeals for charitable donations from us or issued press releases boasting about their good deeds.

The ugly truth here is that most rich and famous pop stars have the same amount of respect for their fans as they do for the tax laws in their country. Both are to be avoided.

For them, it’s (as Lorde’s song Royals goes): “Cristal, Maybach, Diamonds on your timepiece, Jet planes, Islands, Tigers on a gold leash”. For us, it’s The Who and Won’t Get Fooled Again.

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