David Shearer was elected leader of the Labour party because he had an outstanding leadership record outside parliament and he represented a chance for Labour to make a new beginning.
He never found a way to show us his skills and he never created the new beginning Labour needs.
The dead fish stunt will be installed by history as the cringing moment that brought it all down, but for months failure has felt like a matter of time.
Although David Shearer was elected with the support of the previous leadership team, the point of picking a first term MP was to make a break with the direction that had lost consecutive elections.
He started out making a priority of education and New Zealand's economic development, and of investment in science and skills to lift incomes. He hasn't talked much about any of that for more than a year.
He was goaded by the press gallery's attention span. There is not much for the six o'clock news in talking about apprenticeships, or science education, or regional development, or the long tail of educational failure. But he knows those are the keystones of opportunity for middle New Zealand and those striving to join it.
His interest and fluency in those topics gave him a credible alternative economic story to sell that matters a lot more to New Zealand's future than, well, the price of fish. He made progress with bold new energy and housing policies, but Labour still struggled to build a narrative about the National government, or an appealing story of its own. It had too little to say to regional New Zealand, where it no longer holds a single general seat.
The constant regretful message I was getting came from people who hope to own their own home, or pay the mortgage, or who want to own their own small business, who hope their kids make a decent living - they want Labour to be for them, but too often they have felt that Labour speaks only for parts of the community.
Change is painful, especially for those of us who are proud of what Labour has stood for and achieved since Helen Clark's government was elected, but defeat has consequences and Labour needs to tell a new story if it's going to bring down the government.
Labour can't get elected by hiding from the public what it really wants to do. Unpopular policies have to go, not be clumsily repackaged.
And out with unpopular policies must go those parts of the political organisation that prevented David Shearer from making the changes he knew had to be made. Labour is hamstrung by palace politics. Factional loyalty counts for more than performance or electability. Until Labour can be frank about that and tolerant of a contest of ideas, no leader will be successful.
I don't know who will lead Labour next. But Labour needs more than a lick of paint or snappier sound bites at six. It needs change.