On the day student leaders finally met government honchos on election reforms, a survey was released showing dwindling public support for mainstream politicians of all stripes. While I don't support the protesters' continued occupation of key roads, I have to say the students carried themselves admirably on television, stating their case with passion, reason and poise. Here we see the city's new political stars on the rise, and they just put to shame the old guard. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the meeting was not a debate, but if it were, the kids would have won hands down. Whether from the pan-democratic or establishment camps, politicians have been left in the dust by a sudden burst of popular unrest and have no idea how to capitalise on it. Most of them are hardly seen. The student leaders are the new pan-democrats and the better for it. The problem is that the old pan-dems, despite their moniker, have no idea how to play populist politics. Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, much lauded for its ability at mobilising the grass roots, appears completely clueless when the real grass roots rise up in anger in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. The multiple failures of our politicians show in the latest survey by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme. DAB leader Tam Yiu-chung disappeared from the top 10 list of lawmakers. Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing and Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan saw their ratings drop to a two-decade low. Seven of the nine who stayed in the top 10 saw their scores go down. The DAB's unpopularity is predictable, but the pan-democratic old guard is hardly endearing itself with the so-called campaign of non-cooperation with the government. That's plain obstructionism with no real purpose. We are witnessing a seismic change in the city's political landscape and the pan-dems offer the same old tricks. While the students' immediate democratic demands are impossible to realise, like it or not, they have helped cement the politicisation of a whole generation. With their street cred, they are the political leaders of tomorrow - or even today.