• Ben Thomas is a former National Government press secretary and a consultant with Exceltium, whose clients include the Act Party. These are his personal views.
John Key's glitzy "40 Below" party on Auckland's waterfront - a cocktail event that became a hot ticket for young and youth-adjacent voters, particularly in the business, entertainment and creative sectors - was a significant stop on his path to the Beehive in 2008.
It seemed to signal, in the city and fashionable set, a mood for change.
So it seems significant that this campaign has seen National retreat further and further to its provincial base, and focus its attacks on Labour on farmers and rural issues.
National seems to have essentially admitted defeat in the votes of young people and women that helped John Key over the line.
So will Saturday's ballot see another old order swept away?
It's wrong, of course, to talk about a mood for change that sweeps the nation. MMP elections are notoriously tight.
The 40 Below party only seemed like a sign of an inevitable change in hindsight. If New Zealand First hadn't fallen just short of the 5 per cent threshold on election night, Helen Clark may very well have continued as Prime Minister.
The fact the two major parties are now neck-and-neck disguises the considerable advantage that Labour will have moving into the post-election period. Because National has gained at the expense of New Zealand First, the overall strength of that potential bloc has not changed significantly. In contrast, Labour has succeeded in pulling over centrist or swinging voters from National, which means it stands in a stronger position than it did a month ago.
Labour now has two potential coalition partners, New Zealand First and the Greens, and National only one, NZ First - unless it can considerably boost its vote, or those of its favoured partners ACT and the Maori Party, in the final days of the campaign.
Labour's clear preference has been for a NZ First deal. Starting with the political assassination of Metiria Turei, Labour has ruthlessly gone after the Greens' vote and is at least indifferent towards the fate of its memorandum of understanding partner.
Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says she will call the Greens first on election night because her "word is [her] bond", which seems more like a description of a begrudging obligation than an enthusiastic endorsement of a partnership.
This leaves voters on either side of the semi-permeable border between the Greens and Labour "left bloc" with a conundrum. Do they vote for Labour, to give it the greatest leverage in brokering a change of government as the largest party in Parliament? Or do they help the Greens avoid first extinction at the ballot box and then neglect by Labour in post-election negotiations?
The Greens would argue with some justification that their highest ranked MPs would be stronger contributors to a left-wing government than the Labour tail.
The current Labour caucus reflects years of a declining vote. Outside tax expert Deborah Russell and lawyer Kiri Allen, Labour's expected poor showing under Andrew Little meant the party attracted few stellar new candidates.
Even after its recent caucus bloodbath, the Greens have talent at the top.
In one sense National's argument that it is the "same old Labour" is true. To the extent that Ardern changed any of Andrew Little's existing platform, it has been to make policy vaguer (asking for a blank cheque for first term tax reform), inoffensively aspirational (carbon emissions targets in 2050) or just worse (ruling out ever tackling the superannuation age as prime minister).
And yet a mood for change can describe something more concrete than a yen for new faces on magazines.
Certain parts of government calcify over time. Ministers become arrogant, not out of any intention or malice but because they forget what it is like to not run the country with an army of bureaucrats, staffers and BMW drivers at their beck and call. The civil service can get too comfortable and lose perspective on its own politicisation, as evidenced by the State Services Commission handing over personal information about Winston Peters to government ministers.
Even aside from the issues facing the country as a whole, there are things within our institutions a new government of any stripe must set about fixing. If Mr English is to finally be elected prime minster on Saturday, let us hope he has the courage to fix the obvious problems in his mid-ranks that has fuelled calls for change.