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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.