The turning point in the election was probably the second Christchurch earthquake in February. From that point it was never really possible that the Government would lose.
The second decisive point was Darren Hughes' departure, when Phil Goff's image was badly dented.
The third most important moment was the tea tape issue, which gave Winston Peters relevance when he needed it and ensured NZ First's return.
So National's election win was not a surprise, even if it fell a little short of the final few weeks' polls.
NZ First look like National's most viable potential long-term partner, which will make for a touchy and complex relationship over the next three years.
NZ First and the Greens don't mix easily, so whichever of the two ends up closer to Labour will push the other closer to National.
The Greens' strategy has been vindicated. This was a triumph for Green politics, for the leadership and for their campaign.
The narrowness of National's win over the combined non-National vote of Labour, Green, NZ First and Mana will keep the pressure on National to be centrist.
Still, the economy is likely to enter an overdue cyclical upturn sometime in the next three years, for which the Government will claim credit. So National will already be feeling confident about 2014.
Labour got towelled on the weekend, losing the party vote nearly everywhere and getting thrashed in seats it won as recently as 2005.
They worked hard, tried their best and now they have to acknowledge it was a rejection.
The monotonous claim that they ran a great campaign needs to stop. The assertion is tone deaf, arrogant, and embarrassing.
Instead they need to say, "the people rejected us and we understand we have to earn back their trust. We are proud of much of what we stand for, but we need to go back and have a new look at what we are wrong about."
One strand of commentary says Labour's policy is popular, but not its personality.
This is not quite right.
The public strongly agreed with Labour about asset sales, and even went along with compulsory super from age 67, and with capital gains tax.
But I didn't find universal enthusiasm for extending working for families to beneficiaries or their opposition to national standards.
Phil Goff performed well over the last month - and that was recognised in far higher personal ratings. If personality was the sole problem, then Labour's vote would not have been dwindling as his popularity rose.
Labour's advertising lacked creativity and especially lacked humanity or people. The strategic flaw was the belief that people would switch their vote if only policy was explained more.
Party organisation is critically weak and there is no meaningful strategy to change it. In turn the organisation is weak because there is not enough accountability for poor performance.
The next leader will only be successful by taking on the job of changing the party. A party not capable of making hard decisions about itself is not going to win voters' trust to make hard decisions about New Zealand.
MPs who performed well need to be listened to closely. Damien O'Connor was shoved so far down the list that he took his name off it - then he swept the West Coast. Clayton Cosgrove started with a party vote deficit of 11,000 and nearly won anyway.
Labour's rejuvenation will only come when it can make a better case for its relevance to some of the half of the country who vote National.
It is clearly National that Labour must win votes back from, not the Greens, not NZ First, not those who stayed at home and didn't vote.
This is not a matter of packaging. Voters are not choosing National because they are being fooled, but because they see more of what they want.
Only when Labour acknowledges this truth can it hope to win voters back.
John Pagani is a former senior adviser to Labour leader Phil Goff and before that was a key player in Jim Anderton's Alliance team.
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