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Voters remain avidly lukewarm

THE Herald/Nielsen poll we published yesterday may give Labor some slight hope that things are improving, with the government's primary vote up 3 percentage points. But at 30 per cent, it still gives the party plenty to worry about. Similarly, Julia Gillard is doing a little better as preferred prime minister - up 4 points.

THE Herald/Nielsen poll we published yesterday may give Labor some slight hope that things are improving, with the government's primary vote up 3 percentage points. But at 30 per cent, it still gives the party plenty to worry about. Similarly, Julia Gillard is doing a little better as preferred prime minister - up 4 points.

THE Herald/Nielsen poll we published yesterday may give Labor some slight hope that things are improving, with the government's primary vote up 3 percentage points. But at 30 per cent, it still gives the party plenty to worry about. Similarly, Julia Gillard is doing a little better as preferred prime minister - up 4 points.

But again, she still trails Tony Abbott 44 to 48 per cent. Even those meagre positives, though, are surprising after a chaotic week in which a Labor win - the passage of the carbon tax through the lower house - was followed quickly by the fiasco of the Migration Act amendments.

The pain from the latter continues. Phillip Coorey's reports of details of cabinet discussions have dismayed the party and angered the Prime Minister, who has warned ministers against leaks from cabinet. That the information showed the Right failed to push its preferred policy on asylum seekers through cabinet is a hint of the diminishing sway that once all-powerful faction holds. If its grip on the party is indeed weakening it will surely be because in recent years it has shown itself too often to be politically inept. Present leadership speculation is another sign of its reduced intellectual grasp.

As we have reported, the faction is grooming the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, as a possible alternative to Gillard in case she cannot improve Labor's poll standing. Even the suggestion of another leadership change shows a party out of touch. It would simply prove Labor has become a rabble.

Smith has been a capable, if unremarkable Defence Minister, and before that, foreign minister. He is personable, but shows no sign of the talent for explaining or selling policies that both Rudd and Gillard also conspicuously lack.

All three - Rudd, Gillard and Smith - are better understood as bureaucrats rather than politicians. They are careful people, anxious to devise policies based on evidence and explicable in rational terms. But none appears to know how to relate to voters - to inspire and persuade them, or to calm their fears and prejudices. Rudd is more popular now, the poll shows - but almost certainly only because he is not Gillard. Gillard has been unable either to convince the public that difficult policies are worthwhile, or - remarkably - to blunt the attacks of Tony Abbott.

That is surprising because under Abbott the opposition has been slapdash in developing policy. Abbott's aggression wins him support, but his weak approval rating suggests the public has doubts. It is telling that on both sides voters would much rather have someone else running things.

China's children of revolutionTHE central committee of the Chinese Communist Party is holding its final full meeting ahead of a conference this time next year to install a new ''generation'' in its leadership. A current vice-president, Xi Jinping, is poised to replace Hu Jintao as president, party chief, and civilian military head a vice-premier, Li Keqiang, to replace Wen Jiabao as the less powerful prime minister.

But before the unanimous vote and orchestrated applause, we're getting a glimpse of the inner debates and power play. Xi Jinping's ascendancy is the result of an internal struggle mounted successfully by the former leader Jiang Zemin, who pulls many strings despite being out of formal power for seven years. That's the Chinese communist way. In retirement, his predecessor, Deng Xiaoping, also called the shots. Hu Jintao had favoured Li Keqiang for the top job.

The cautious hope must be that Xi has the confidence and backing to take bold jumps out of the political corral placed around China's people by an orthodoxy that is both harsh and timid at the same time. His father, a deputy premier under Mao Zedong, was one of the top officials purged in the Cultural Revolution, and the son also felt the taint of being dubbed as a counter-revolutionary. But that is a proud lineage these days, making Xi a ''princeling'' of the party.

Now we learn, from our correspondent John Garnaut's intriguing article yesterday, that Xi's older sister turned up at a recent gathering where some dangerous thoughts were aired by many other children of the party's great: that the party is steeped in moral decay, taking China towards catastrophe that it needs to be placed under democracy and the rule of law that China's greatest recent reformer was Chiang Ching-kuo, son of former arch enemy Chiang Kai-shek, who threw Taiwan's switch to democracy.

Such talk on the internet or in petitions can, and has, drawn long jail terms, as a dissident like writer Liu Xiaobo could attest if he were free to do so. The attendees at the Hall of Many Sages who voiced these criticisms are cocooned by their parents' prestige. Many other princelings have happily jumped into the money-making opportunities offered by party cronyism. Another princeling, Bo Xilai, is making a power play from his Chongqing base under a red cloak of Maoism. If Xi Jinping has liberal reform in mind, he is wisely keeping it well hidden. Still, the crack in the party facade is interesting. Ancestor worship is something Lenin had not factored in to the party model.


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