Coalition takes a battering in local elections

The coalition has endured a battering as Labour racked up big gains in local elections across the country.

The opposition claimed it was 'exceeding expectations' by seizing control of key councils such as Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Thurrock, Harlow, Southampton, Birmingham and Chorley.

David Cameron was also embarrassed by losses in the backyard of his Commons constituency - with Labour taking the seats of Witney Central, Witney East and Chipping Norton.

In a further blow, Nottingham ignored pleas from the Prime Minister and rejected proposals for an elected mayor. It voted against by 57.5pc to 42.5pc with other cities expected to follow suit.

The Liberal Democrats were not spared pain, suffering a further cull of their councillors as voters seemingly punished the government for austerity measures.

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Labour won four seats to strip the Lib Dems of control in Cambridge.

Local government secretary and former Tory chairman Eric Pickles told Sky News the results were to be expected.

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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.'

Shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan said: '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.'

The Tories also pointed to a low turnout, estimated at around 30%, suggesting that 'apathy' had played a significant part in the results.

Overall Labour looked on track to exceed the 700 gains experts had set as the threshold for a good performance.

A BBC projection of the national vote share gave the party 39pc - up three points on a year ago. The Tories were down four on 31pc and the Lib Dems trod water on 16pc.

However, Labour leader Ed Miliband did suffer a setback in Bradford, where his party lost seats to Respect.

The results followed George Galloway's shock success in last month's parliamentary by-election.

Some 5,000 seats were at stake on 181 local councils across England, Scotland and Wales.

Most were last up for grabs in 2008, when the Conservatives made significant gains and Labour and the Lib Dems were hit hard.

Around 1,200 are in Scotland - where Labour is expected to find it tougher to make inroads against the SNP - and yet to be counted.

A Labour source said: 'We are making real progress in areas where we need to win (at the general election) in 2015.'

In further embarrassment for prime minister David Cameron, Manchester, Nottingham, Bradford and Coventry have voted No to elected mayors.

He will be hoping that Boris Johnson will give the Conservatives something to cheer about by securing re-election as London Mayor.

An eve-of-poll survey for the Evening Standard suggested that Mr Johnson is set for victory over Labour's Ken Livingstone, by a margin of 53pc to 47pc.

The result of the mayoral election is not likely to be known until this evening.

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