oris Johnson faced a backlash from local Tory leaders as his party lost the key London boroughs of Barnet, Wandsworth and Westminster to Labour and suffered setbacks across England.
However, while Sir Keir Starmer’s party gained ground in the capital 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 results saw Wandsworth turn red for the first time since 1978 and Barnet and Westminster for the first time in both borough’s history.
Wandsworth first 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.
Outgoing Tory councillor Ravi Govindia, who led the Wandsworth council for 11 years, told the Standard the election result rested on both national and local issues, and the cost of living crisis was “not something one could hide away from”.
“People have balanced national against local issues and come to a view, I’m sorry it has come to the result it has. I’m disappointed,” he said.
As the results were announced, cheers erupted from the Labour side of the hall.
On winning, the new council leader Simon Hogg said it had been an “incredible night, way beyond my expectations”.
“This has been decades in the making for us. The hard work starts tomorrow, and we will build that compassionate council that truly listens, we’re going to build genuinely affordable homes and safer, greener streets”.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the result in Wandworth showed “the public is fed up with complacency of Tory councils, complacency of Tory government, and are willing to give us a chance”.
The Conservative leader of Barnet in north London, Daniel Johnson, said his party had lost control of the council, where they had 36 of the 63 seats going into Thursday’s election.
“I think this is a warning shot from Conservative supporters and I think our loss today is not only due to the fact that I have just mentioned but also a fair number of Conservative voters who just didn’t go out to vote, stayed at home,” he said.
He added: “Clearly if Labour are to get a majority in Parliament they need to win Barnet. They won the council, if they win our parliamentary constituencies as well, then it doesn’t bode well for us to form a Government in future general elections.”
Westminster’s Labour leader thanked residents for “putting their faith” in the party after it took control of the area for the first time.
Adam Hug tweeted: “The residents of Westminster have put their faith in Labour to lead the council. It is an honour and a privilege.
“We will work every day to build a fairer Westminster.”
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.
But votes were only being counted in some of the English contests overnight, including key authorities in the capital.
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”.