These are tax­ing times for pop stars but we won’t get fooled again

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

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 halfhu­mans, 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 Nether- lands 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.

Gary Bar­low: makes One Di­rec­tion look like Maoist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies

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