LONDON - Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party took a bashing on Friday in mid-term local elections, capping a bad month for the government after Britain slid back into recession.
The main opposition Labour Party made big gains in the partial elections at the expense of the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners in the coalition government.
In a further blow to Mr Cameron two years after he came to power, his push to create the posts of elected mayors in England's biggest cities was rejected in referendums.
However, early vote indications showed Conservative Boris Johnson may hold on to the mayor's job in London in the year of the 2012 Olympics. Results are due in the capital from around 1900 GMT (3am Singapore time).
A BBC vote share estimate based on results in England put Labour up three per cent on 39 per cent, the Conservatives down four on 31, the Liberal Democrats unchanged on 16 and others on 14. They projected a low turnout of 32 per cent.
With results in from 104 of the 181 local councils at stake, the centre-right Conservatives controlled 29 councils, losing power in 11, and held 604 seats, a loss of 289.
Centre-left Labour were the big winners, gaining control of 22 councils to give them power in 52, and winning 1,158 seats (up 483).
The centrist Lib Dems run just three councils, down one, and hold 220 seats (down 133).
Across Britain, fewer than one-third of English seats were up for grabs, while almost all those in Wales were up for election.
Results from Scotland are due later, while Northern Ireland is not voting this time.
Labour's showpiece gain was wresting back control of Britain's second city Birmingham from a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition after eight years.
The council is Europe's largest local authority, representing more than one million people.
Mr Cameron said he felt 'sorry' for all the unseated Conservatives, but added that the poll had taken place against a 'difficult national backdrop'.
'These are difficult times and there aren't easy answers,' he said.
'What we have to do is take the difficult decisions to deal with the debt, deficit and broken economy that we've inherited and we will go on making those decisions and we've got to do the right thing for our country.'
In an added embarrassment for Mr Cameron, the Conservatives even lost seats to Labour in his own constituency in Oxfordshire, southern England.
Mr Cameron wants elected mayors in all major English cities, but final results so far from four of the 10 conurbations voting on the issue showed Manchester, Nottingham, Coventry and Bradford had all rejected the idea.
Labour's gains showed they were winning support in the sort of towns and suburbs in the more affluent south of England where they need backing if they hope to win the next general election, due in 2015.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose position was heavily criticised just weeks ago, said the vote was the result of Mr Cameron promising change but delivering disappointment.
'We are a party winning back people's trust, regaining ground, but there is more work to do,' he said.
'People are suffering from this recession, people are suffering from a government that raises taxes for them and cuts taxes for millionaires.'
Following a bad month for the Conservatives on a string of domestic issues, some within the party have called for a return to core right-wing Tory values, bemoaning the influence of their centrist Lib Dem coalition partners.
'Of course the Conservatives can't do everything that we would like to do in government because we are in coalition within the Liberal Democrats,' said Foreign Secretary William Hague, hinting at the frustration in the ranks.