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Labour puts coalition on the rack
Counting of votes gets underway at the Richard Dunn Sports Centre, Bradford for the local council elections
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, Great Yarmouth and Chorley fell to Ed Miliband's party. The Prime Minister was also embarrassed by losses in his Oxfordshire constituency - with Labour taking the seats of Witney Central, Witney East and Chipping Norton.
In a further blow, Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry ignored Mr Cameron's pleas and rejected proposals for elected mayors. Birmingham and other cities are expected to follow suit.
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 BBC 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 parliamentary by-election.
Tories pointed to a low turnout, estimated at little over 30%, suggesting that "apathy" had played a significant part in the results.
But there were also calls for a change in direction from the leadership. Senior backbencher Bernard Jenkin insisted the party had to focus on the economy rather than allowing their Lib Dem coalition partners to dictate the agenda. "The coalition is going to look completely stupid if it follow through on Lords reform," he told the BBC.
Mr Clegg said: "I am really sad that so many colleagues and friends, Liberal Democrat councillors, who have worked so hard, so tirelessly for so many years for communities and families in their local areas have lost their seats and I want to pay tribute to all the great work they have done.
"I am determined that we will continue to play our role in rescuing, repairing and reforming the British economy. It's not an easy job and it can't be done overnight but our duty is to boost jobs and investment and to restore a sense of hope and optimism to our country."