IT’S what Louis Walsh, of X Factor fame, might call the likeability factor. That is presumably the reason why Gary Barlow appears to have escaped relatively unscathed from allegedly being linked to a tax avoidance scheme.

Not so lucky was comedian Jimmy Carr, who was roundly criticised, including by the Prime Minister, for apparently seeking to squirrel money away from the tax man.

Was David Cameron happy to criticise Carr but not Barlow because one supports Labour and the other the Conservatives – as some have suggested?

Or is it more simply that Gary, slowly working his way towards national treasure status, is considered too nice to be mean about while Carr has taken the mickey out of too many people to be immune?

Who knows.

In any case, lawyers for Barlow have denied any wrongdoing, although his connection to some smart savings schemes might not come as a surprise to anyone who has read any of the rumours about his apparent meanness.

Did he not admit he once charged his bandmates to use his mobile phone?

Under siege Carr has gone further and apologised for his “error of judgement”.

I feel a little sorry for him as he has probably paid way more tax than the average Joe will ever stump up.

That said, it’s refreshing that the rich are in the firing line over cheating the tax man rather than the poor.

It’s certainly easier to accept that those without two pennies to rub together might be tempted to diddle their tax returns or benefits than those with more cash than they could ever spend.

Anyway, the real point is that those involved in tax avoidance have probably taken advice on their financial affairs from well-paid accountants.

If they were offered ways to save money – legally – is it really realistic to expect them to reply, “No, don’t bother, I’d rather pay as much tax as I can.” Would you?

I think not.

It’s easy to play the morality card but why are we even trying to differentiate between actions that are legal and actions that are morally wrong?

Surely the best option should be to make it crystal clear what the law allows and what it doesn’t. And just stick to that?