I used to admire John Key. Even when I disagreed with his policies I found his political savvy impressive. Anyone who could co-opt and manage both John Banks and Tariana Turia on his team, had to be reckoned with.

Although the reckoning for those with whom he associated himself seemed often to be costly to their reputations - Peter Dunne, is only the latest of several examples - while Key's own reputation, buoyed by an increasingly menacing grin, bobs along in the opinion polls. Reputation is not the same as substance. It's only about what people think you are, and if that were not subject to manipulation there would be no careers for public relations flacks.

With a succession of moves culminating in the GCSB Act, I've been forced to reassess my position about Mr Key. Certainly that policy is disagreeable and thoroughly antidemocratic.

It was the same with the float of the Mighty River Power Co. There, too, he blithely ignored the popular will. But this time is different. Of course the substance is different. Yes, a power company sale is a major rip-off of our common holdings. We paid for those companies and he sold them to 5 per cent of us over the objections of 80 per cent of us. That's disgraceful. But it is about material things. Ultimately it's about money, and money, while quite tangible, is far removed from our essential values or the core of our spirit.


The GCSB Act is about our fundamental rights as New Zealanders to be secure in our own privacy. Not because "if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to worry about", but because we should not have to prove we've done nothing wrong or even worry about it. Fundamental to democracy, as citizens, we are presumed innocent.

A democratic Government - which means ourselves - is about protecting that presumption and the privacy attached to it. A Government that acts otherwise is well on the way to despotism. Read the complaints made by the American colonists in the 1770s against their British masters. Arbitrary searches and presumptions of guilt led from dissidence to open rebellion.

Arbitrarily refusing to justify the necessity for this serious incursion in our right to privacy, Mr Key has, in addition, expressed his disdain for participatory democracy by his claim that New Zealand citizens are more concerned with the snapper quota than the issue of surveillance.

If there is any core of truth to that assertion, we're already in trouble. Democracy, though fragile, is seldom lost overnight. More commonly, it happens slowly, as citizens' rights are taken one by one. The process of loss resembles the metaphor of the frog who sits quietly in the pot while the temperature gradually rises to the boiling. Liberty, too, can be lost by degrees.

At the same time there exists a similar metaphor about another kind of gradualism and overreach. It's called the "broken window hypothesis" and it's been applied by law enforcement to help decrease crime. The idea is that if minor infractions are taken seriously then major law-breaking may be prevented.

We can apply this to subversion by Government, itself, just as easily as to others who fail to live up to the law - criminals. We need to be more attentive to the Prime Minister. His snarky comment disparages us enough that we need to take him at his word and be prepared to object to his next bit of overreach - the next power company, or the next act of attempted ignoring of the national will.

So far, protests have fallen on the PM's deaf ears. Mindful of recent actions by the UK Parliament in halting their PM's rush to bomb Syria, we need to shout louder, especially at our local MPs who go along and thereby enable the PM's antidemocratic behaviour.

It's either that we shout louder and more effectively or we sit quietly while the heat under us, evaporating our rights, our liberty, rises slowly, almost imperceptibly.