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5:17am UK, Friday May 04, 2012
The Tories have endured a battering in the local elections with Labour racking up a series of significant victories across the country.
The Opposition claimed it was “exceeding expectations” by seizing control of key councils such as Thurrock, Harlow, Southampton and Birmingham.
Labour also took Great Yarmouth, Chorley and Plymouth.
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David Cameron was also embarrassed by losses in the backyard of his Commons constituency – with Labour taking Witney Central, Witney East and Chipping Norton.
In a further blow, several cities ignored pleas from the Prime Minister and rejected proposals to opt for elected mayors, in a series of referendums.
Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry voted No, and there are signs that Birmingham and others have also dismissed the plan.
Meanwhile, Labour’s Joe Anderson has become Liverpool’s first elected mayor.
The councillor, who has until now been leader of Liverpool City Council, won the city’s first mayoral elections at the first count with 58,448 votes.
Boris Johnson will hope to restore some Tory pride when the results of the London mayoral contest are announced later today.
The Liberal Democrats were not spared pain, suffering a further cull of their councillors as voters seemingly punished the Government for austerity measures.
However, there were rumours of a setback for Labour in Bradford, with speculation the party’s council leader could have been defeated by a Respect candidate.
The result would emulate George Galloway’s shock success in last month’s parliamentary by-election.
The Tories also pointed to a low turnout, estimated at around 30%, suggesting that “apathy” had played a significant part in the results.
After results from 94 councils Labour had gained 440 seats, the Tories had lost 248 and the Lib Dems had lost 131.
When a party is rock bottom there’s only one way to go. But I’m not seeking to rain on Labour’s parade.
Local Government Secretary and former Tory chairman Eric Pickles
Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman told Sky News said the Labour win in Harlow was a “significant victory”.
But Local Government Secretary and former Tory chairman Eric Pickles told Sky Labour’s gains were to be expected.
He predicted the party would claim 700 seats.
He said: “When a party is rock bottom there’s only one way to go. But I’m not seeking to rain on Labour’s parade.”
Labour’s shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan told Sky: “It has been a good night for Labour because people who have been concerned about some of the decisions of this coalition Government are punishing them by voting for Labour candidates all around the country.
“But we mustn’t be complacent or smug about this.”
Polls closed at 10pm with the political parties facing their biggest test of public opinion since the 2010 General Election.
Voters across England, Scotland and Wales cast their ballots for about 5,000 seats across 181 local councils.
In Scotland, the council elections were held in their own right this year instead of the same time as the parliamentary election.
The decision followed the 2007 election fiasco which saw around 100,000 spoilt ballots.
The problems were blamed on a confusing array of voting systems, coupled with the use of electronic counting.
:: 128 local authorities in England
:: 32 councils in Scotland
:: 21 councils in Wales
:: 3 cities will elect mayors
:: 11 referendums on whether to have a directly-elected mayor in the future
:: 25 seats in the London Assembly
Siobhan Benita (Independent), Carlos Cortiglia (British National Party), Jenny Jones (Green), Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrats) and Lawrence Webb (UKIP) are also standing.
The Conservatives gained 257 councillors across England and Wales in 2008, taking control of 12 councils in the process.
Labour lost 334 councillors and nine councils while the Liberal Democrats gained 33 councillors and one council.