A polygraph machine. Photo: Dima Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images
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Suzanne Moore: I felt confident about taking a lie detector test. Then I remembered my Robin Hood past

“I just want to explain about the ham,” I said.

When I tell people that I have taken a lie detector test, they always seem to assume I’ve been involved in some major fraud. Or been on Jeremy Kyle. I am not a great liar but I’d always thought that . . . you know, I could front stuff out. Yet, when I found myself on the 35th floor of a Manhattan office block and was shown into a very small waiting room, I began to wonder about my ability to tell the truth.

All of this was happening because I’d applied for a job in a record shop. It sent me for a lie detector test, which it said was standard. Everyone knows that such tests are rubbish. I mean, what’s the science behind them? As I wasn’t a criminal mastermind, it would be no bother but waiting in an airless room made me anxious.

A very large man came out and called me in and said we would talk through “the procedure”.

“No need,” I said breezily. “I have seen it in films.”

“No. It’s important you understand what is about to happen.”

He explained where I would sit, how I would be wired up, how sensors would pick up my heartbeat. “And pulses and perspiration.”

Suddenly I felt very hot. Also, faint.

Then he read out the list of questions he was going to ask me. And I realised I was not prepared for this at all.

“Have you ever stolen anything from a workplace – by ‘anything’, it could be a pen, a drawing pin – or made a phone call for free?”

Jesus. Of course I had.

What about the Saturday job I had at a supermarket, in which I passed stuff through the till for some customers without ringing it up, as I felt that old people should not really have to pay? My personal redistribution of wealth started at 14. When they put me on the deli counter, I decided that anyone who looked a bit poor should get free ham. It never entered my head that this was actual stealing.

Should I say something now, or when I was wired up?

“I will also be asking you several questions about substance abuse. When I say ‘substance’, I am, of course, including alcohol.”

Anticipating your own lies makes you sweat.

He took me to the chair and put stuff around my head, my heart, my fingers.

“I gave out ham. I was really young,” I blurted out.

“Please stay silent and simply answer the questions.”

“It wasn’t ordinary stealing. It was for other people.”

“I have asked you to be quiet.”

“I just want to explain about the ham.”

“Do you understand anything about what is happening now?”

He was very annoyed.

“Yes, that’s why I am trying to be honest. It’s not like I have done an armed robbery.”

At this, the needles on the polygraph went berserk. 

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.