Casual gaming in Number 10

What does Cameron see in Fruit Ninja?

According to Fraser Nelson in Friday's Telegraph, a senior government source has revealed that:

the PM spends "a crazy, scary amount of time playing Fruit Ninja on his iPad".

Fruit Ninja, of course, is the popular iPad game – now back near the top of the bestseller list after this celebrity endorsement – where you cut and cut as quickly as you can until you cut the wrong thing by mistake and then the game ends. It seems like a bit of a busman's holiday for Cameron.

The life of a Prime Minister must be uncomfortably gamified already. You are continually given a score based on your performance, which is judged against other players on a near-daily basis, and while you attempt to memorise and execute complex manouevres designed to give you a lead, with opaque names like "expansionary fiscal contraction" or "third-sector pathfinder initiative", there is always the chance some random event like a global financial crisis will pop up and interrupt your flow, bringing it all crashing down.

Indeed, Fruit Ninja is a strange choice of distraction for Cameron. Unlike his previous timewaster of choice, Angry Birds, there is no completion to chase, no victory condition where you can put the game down with a confident glow. You play until you lose, and you hope that when you lose your numbers were better than everyone else's. Sadly, freedom of information legislation doesn't extend to high scores, and the PM refused to answer Telegraph deputy editor James Kirkup's questions on the matter, so we can't compare his skill at cutting fruit with his skill at cutting spending, but it seems like when he's bored of the game, it may be worth moving on to something a little less like the day job.

Unfortunately, the bestseller charts aren't particularly helpful. Cut the Rope extends the unfortunate slashing theme, while Bejeweled focuses too much on the high-score chase. Given the Prime Minister is likely to want to keep his addiction on the down-low, a social game like Draw Something might not be the best idea, and too much time spent playing Extinction Squad, saving cuddly creatures from obliteration, may remind him of the uncomfortably unfulfilled pledge to become the greenest government ever.

Perhaps he ought to give Minecraft a go. It has no scores reminding him of his (lack of) progress, no fellow players to compare himself unfavourably to and really no aim other than to just do what you want. It's also a game in which you can literally dig your way out of a hole, which is probably a dream come true.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.