DAVID Cameron and Nick Clegg have been dealt a stinging rebuke by the public as Labour racked up big gains in local elections.
Key councils such as Thurrock, Harlow, Southampton, Birmingham, Norwich and Chorley fell to Ed Miliband’s party.
The Prime Minister was also embarrassed by losses in his Oxfordshire constituency.
The Liberal Democrats were not spared pain, being left without a representative on several powerful councils as voters seemingly punished the Government for austerity measures.
Overall Labour looked on track to exceed the 700 gains experts had set as the threshold for a good performance.
A projection of the national vote share gave the party 39% – up three points on a year ago. The Tories were down four on 31% and the Lib Dems trod water on 16%.
However, Mr 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 by-election.
Tories pointed to a low turnout, estimated at little more than 30%, suggesting “apathy” had played a significant part in the results.
Local Government Secretary and former Tory chairman Eric Pickles claimed the outcome was to be expected. 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.
“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.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to play down the scale of the Conservative losses.
Mr Hague said: “These results – while it is never a good feeling to lose councillors – are well within the normal range of mid-term results for governments and I think not so good for the Opposition, who are not getting 40% of the vote.
“You wouldn’t look at this and say Labour was on track to win a general election at all.”
Some 5,000 seats were at stake on 181 local councils across England, Scotland and Wales.
Around 1,200 are in Scotland – where Labour is expected to find it tougher to make inroads against the SNP – and are yet to be counted.