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The Baroness Moyo interview: "We’re going to be fine. But we want to be more than fine. We want to be making progress"

Baroness Moyo (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)

7 min read

Politicians from all parties agree that growing the economy is vital. The question is, how do we do it? Baroness Moyo speaks to Sophie Church about plans to boost productivity, trade-offs that have to be made on net-zero and why the Bank of England’s relationship with government is repairable. Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Minutes before her interview, Conservative peer Baroness Moyo’s assistant texts: “just a head’s up, we are bringing a floral arrangement to ‘brighten up the room.’”

Sure enough the door opens and a beautiful box of flowers is escorted in, of soft peach roses and purple spotted lilies, brought over from an upmarket London department store. Emerging from the bouquet’s bloom comes Baroness Moyo, every bit as glamorous as her floral accompaniment suggests.

Baroness Moyo was elevated into the Lords in 2022, along with one of her best friends, Lord Roberts of Belgravia. “We share the dumb questions to ask between us,” she says, with a modest smile. 

If we have large investors like BlackRock saying, ‘I’m seeing potential stability, things are going to be okay’ – I’m all for that

But looking at her career to date, it seems unlikely Baroness Moyo will be asking any silly questions.  Born in Zambia, the peer studied at Harvard and Oxford. She went on to consult at the World Bank, and advised developing countries on economic affairs at Goldman Sachs. She has sat, or is sitting, on the boards of Barclays, Chevron and Condé Nast, and has written five books on global economics, including four New York Times bestsellers. 

Baroness Moyo (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)
Baroness Moyo (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)

Economics has been Baroness Moyo’s life’s work. And today, she is clear: we all agree economic growth is necessary; now it’s a question of how we achieve it. “Execution is really the difference between a successful business and one that’s not, and it’s true also for governments. It’s about execution,” she says firmly.

When considering how the government executes going for growth, or doesn’t in this case, one politician comes to mind. Has Liz Truss done irreparable damage to the growth agenda?

“I think that rather than picking apart what the prime minister of the country may have done right or wrong… I think the fundamental point is that you want to win hearts and minds,” she replies. “We’ve learned that the devil’s in the detail, so to speak, and we have to figure out how to not just have policies that work but have messaging that’s very clear about how you’re going to finance this growth agenda.”

Baroness Moyo (Credit: Louise Haywood-Schiefer)
Baroness Moyo (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)

Baroness Moyo says she is first and foremost a peer, so “wants the country to do well”. Her priority, then, is seeing greater investment flow into the UK, and to “see more progress in the areas where we have slipped”. Where that support comes from, she says, is “immaterial in many respects”. “If we have large investors like BlackRock [whose chairman recently gave his backing to Labour], saying, ‘I’m seeing potential stability, things are going to be okay’ – I’m all for that,” she says. “Obviously, I have my own personal views, but ultimately we should all be rooting for Britain to do better and to be proven to be on a positive trajectory.”

However, Baroness Moyo says there has been tension between the Bank of England and the government over the concessions that must be made to achieve growth. 

“Keeping interest rates high in an environment that is weak on growth means you will deter investment, and therefore you could put growth on the negative path. That’s the trade-off. That’s where the tension emerges between public policymakers and the Bank of England.”

Still, as a self-proclaimed optimist, she says of the Bank of England’s relationship with government: “I don’t think it’s eternally damaged.” 

We were all excited about ChatGPT six months ago, I mean how often do we use this?

“I speak to people all the time,” she continues. “We shouldn’t flatter ourselves; the world’s not going to end in our generation. We’re going to be fine. But we want to be more than fine. We want to be making progress. We want to see utility expanded for everyone.”

History was a newfound companion for Baroness Moyo over lockdown and informs much of her thinking today. So when looking for solutions to fire up our sluggish economy, she points to technological innovations that “have bailed us out time and time again”. 

However, she says it is too early to tell whether AI will break our economic deadlock, and warns against labelling AI as a silver bullet to our productivity problems. “We’ve seen cloud, we’ve seen micro processing, we’ve seen a lot of things that have happened: internet of things, cryptocurrencies, all these fads… just in the last 10 years, none of them have scaled to the point of being so transformative on productivity… We were all excited about ChatGPT six months ago, I mean how often do we use this?”

Optimists – Baroness Moyo among them – think new industries will whirr into gear as the AI revolution takes hold. She bets on research and development becoming much more important. However, others think AI will be a cuckoo in the nest of industry – broadly displacing workers whose skills are no longer required.

“I think one piece of the question is: do we need a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for people who are leaving the workforce and are not being offered new work because their work skills… will be replaced by technology?” 

One option currently under discussion is taxing the owners of open AI technology and redistributing where finance is needed. “How do we fund that UBI?” she asks. “We fund it by taxing the capital to pay the labour.” Baroness Moyo was born and raised in Africa and criticises how people there still lack access to modern energy sources. “It is damning,” she says sharply. “It’s damning because that means those people don’t have access to education, they don’t have access to opportunity. And we should be worried about that as much as we’re worried about pretty much anything else.”

Baroness Moyo (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)
Baroness Moyo (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)

But as the conversation moves from energy for development, to energy for climate change, to energy for security, the question is once again how we balance competing priorities. 

“That shift in how we think about the problem of energy and climate transition means that investors are changing their attitudes, the trade-offs between making sure in a cold winter people actually have heating that works, means that we have to be… much more sensible about the pace of the transition, how much it’s going to cost, and what we’re willing to give up in return.”

Does she agree with the Prime Minister dialling back certain net-zero commitments?

Baroness Moyo says she is pragmatic.“They still have that ultimate target for 2050, but they’re trying to figure out what kind of trade-offs can be made in the interim so that people aren’t cold or are struggling motorists. My understanding is that they haven’t come off of the fundamental target. They’ve just decided that there are better ways to accomplish it in the timeframe that we have.”

Moyo’s stature on the economic and now political stage is evident. In her new book, The Women Who Made Modern Economics, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves says Moyo “changed the conventional wisdom regarding what an economist looks like, cares about, and where they come from”. 

Having used her maiden speech to honour former chancellors – Lord Lawson, Lord Clarke of Nottingham and Lord Darling, for instance – is Moyo similarly inspired by Reeves, who could soon make history as Britain’s first female chancellor?

“How can we not [be inspired]? I love that she’s a chess player too. It’s fantastic. I think we should be celebrating women in all fields.”

She laughingly makes clear her inclusion in Reeves’ book is not the reason for her praise – she had not even seen it yet – but thinks “we should all be excited and celebrate when women are in high levels of office, especially in offices that they haven’t been in before”.

For now, Baroness Moyo is very much enjoying life in Parliament. That is, despite the mice, crumbling concrete and risk of fire. But moving out while restoration works happen would be disastrous, she says.

“Who doesn’t want to stay here? I mean, it’s creaky. It’s cold. It’s all that everybody complains about it. But who wants to get chucked out here?” 

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