Boris Johnson faced a backlash from local Tory leaders as his party lost a flagship London authority to Labour and suffered setbacks across England.
While Sir Keir Starmer’s party gained ground in the capital by taking the totemic Tory authority in Wandsworth, there was a mixed picture elsewhere with the loss of Hull to the Liberal Democrats but success in the new Cumberland authority.
As dozens of Tory councillors lost their seats against a backdrop of the row about lockdown-busting parties in No 10 and the cost-of-living crisis, local Conservative leaders criticised the Prime Minister.
The loss of Wandsworth will be a significant blow to the Conservatives. Reuters / Hannah McKay
After results were declared from 53 councils, the Tories had lost control of two authorities and were down 55 councillors, Labour had a net gain of one council and 21 councillors, the Lib Dems had one authority and 31 more seats while the Greens had put on 19 councillors.
The loss of Wandsworth will be a significant blow because of its symbolic status in London.
It turned blue in 1978, a year before Margaret Thatcher’s election as prime minister and was reputedly her favourite council, renowned for its low taxes.
Despite Labour's London gains, it's a mixed picture elsewhere in the country so far. HANNAH MCKAY
“Boris Johnson losing Wandsworth is monumental. This was the Tories’ jewel in the crown,” a Labour source said.
The Tories also lost control of Worcester to no overall control, with gains for the Greens and Labour.
Council seats are up for grabs in Scotland, Wales and many parts of England, while there are elections to Stormont in Northern Ireland.
A Conservative source admitted they thought the elections would be 'tough'. Hannah McKay / Reuters
But votes were only being counted in some of the English contests overnight, including key authorities in the capital.
As well as Wandsworth, Tories fear losses in Barnet and possibly Westminster on a difficult night for Mr Johnson’s party in the city he used to run.
The leader of the Labour group in Barnet, Barry Rawlings, told the BBC: “I’ve been feeling confident for a while.”
The elections take place following the partygate scandal and with concerns about a cost-of-living crisis underlined by grim economic forecasts from the Bank of England on polling day.
Mid-term elections are always difficult for a governing party, although as many of the English seats were last contested in 2018 during Theresa May’s chaotic administration, opportunities for opposition parties to make further gains may be limited.
A Tory source conceded “we expect these elections to be tough”.