So, what are the lessons to be learned from this by-election, even if the parties will probably ignore them? Confronted with a rather ignominious loss, National will blame the candidate Melissa Lee. Certainly she made some horrendous blunders that left her campaign looking like a slow motion car crash.

But the National Party and the Government must accept a fair measure of blame. Last year Melissa Lee was a "star" candidate, fast-tracked through the list with little scrutiny by the party. As a list candidate she had never developed the bare-knuckle skills required on the hustings for someone contesting an electorate seat.

Charging into the fight in Mt Albert, impelled by her own blind ambition and a party organisation that obviously never asked itself if she had "the right stuff", Lee crashed and burned.

Her candidacy was doomed from the start when Cabinet failed to inform her there was a third option for the Waterview motorway extension, which she might have been able to better sell had she understood it before the Government dropped the unpopular bombshell.

In case no one in Mt Albert was surly enough by then, the Government then botched its chance to convince folk of the advantages of a Supercity and Lee became the target for its opponents.

Lee was the wrong person, in the wrong place, at entirely the wrong time.

Yet how is Labour winning one of its safest seats suddenly a marvellous achievement? It will take heart from the win but I am not sure if it has learned anything from the crushing defeat of eight months ago. It was interesting to watch the left, especially Anderton's Progressives, rally to Labour's cause. That could be sign of things to come.

The Greens? Good try, no cigar, and another lamington for Act's John Boscawen.