It surely does not get much better than this for Winston Peters.

His trouncing of National in today's Northland byelection is a double triumph for the New Zealand First leader. Not only has he snaffled one of National's safest seats, he has simultaneously given John Key a bloody nose.

The physical damage is superficial, however. It will take another byelection thumping to really alter the balance of power in Parliament to Peters' and the overall Opposition's advantage.

The psychological impact of being thrashed by Peters cuts much deeper.

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This is the first time Key has been on the wrong end of a drubbing.

Her will be magnanimous in defeat. He will say National has got the message. He will say National will take the lessons from the byelection because if you lose, there are by definition lessons to be learned.

But nothing much will actually change - and for very good reasons.

National is still polling strongly across the rest of the nation as a whole.

You don't throw the baby out of the bathroom because one electorate has muddied the bathwater.

National realises it was on a hiding to nothing in Northland. Casting a vote in favour of Peters was cost-free.

That will not be the case next time - if there is a next time. And Peters will not be the candidate.

There has to be soul-searching, however, when it comes to National's dreadful campaign. In the end, there were no last-minute miracles to save National's severe blushes.

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Not even Key could pull a rabbit out of the hat.

National's talk of the gap closing between Peters and its candidate Mark Osborne in the last week of the campaign turned out to be just that - talk.

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