OPINION by Paul Henry: The battle to replace John Key will be a bloodbath. But because National is a very, very professional organisation, it will be as much as possible a bloodbath behind closed doors.
What John Key has done almost never happens. Very few international leaders have ever bowed out on top, on their own terms. It's why we automatically think something else must be going on that's forced him to make the decision
Politicians, particularly Prime Ministers, lose elections or are knifed by ambitious colleagues - so when this does happen it always catches you by surprise, as it did to New Zealand yesterday.
Now the real fight begins. And no matter how it looks from the outside, it will be a fight.
We're talking about Bill English as though he's got the job and he hasn't got the job - he's a million miles away from the job. He's just not quite as far away as anybody else because Key has mentioned him as his preferred successor.
English is a safe pair of hands; he certainly won't frighten the markets.
But the person who will be the next Prime Minister of New Zealand will be the person who can rustle up the most caucus votes, and English is on shaky ground for three reasons:
Because the only thing the caucus is interested in is power.
A lot of National MPs, because they've been in power for so long, don't know what the Opposition's like. They don't realise what a dead, dull, dreary, underfunded, understaffed, useless place the Opposition is.
Bill English knows what it's like. And there are a couple of others like Judith Collins who do not want to be there.
And so the caucus will vote for the person who will give them the best chance of retaining power. That is all that matters.
The fact that English is a safe pair of hands, the fact that he's economically sound, the fact that by all accounts - to some people anyway - he can be trusted, maybe plays into his hands.
But then you look at Judith Collins and you think, "There's someone who will fight tooth and nail to pull the country together to get National re-elected."
Judith would get my vote. But what she needs is a great running mate, because she's polarising - that can be good, but she needs a good running mate.
The real winners yesterday, aside from John Key and his family, were Labour and Andrew Little.
There are upsides to the timeline for National - it gives the new leader time to prove they can run the country before the next election, when economically, things are on a sure footing and there is a small element of re-fresh about a new person in charge. But John Key abandoning his post gives Labour the sniff at victory they didn't have when he was their opponent.
Make no mistake - there will be blood on the walls.