Theresa May was heckled by a Tory member who demanded she resign today as she faced the party faithful for the first time after a disastrous night saw it humiliated at the polls.
She admitted that the results from local elections in England had been ‘very difficult’ after early results saw it lose more than 400 seats.
The man leapt up before she started addressing the Welsh Conservative conference in Llangollen, saying: ‘why don’t you resign?’
She replied by praising the friendliness of the Welsh people before addressing the election result.
She said: ‘Results are still coming in but it has been very difficult for our party. The picture is clear.
‘Councillors who’ve given years of hard work in their local communities have lost through no fault of their own.’
Mrs May added: ‘This is a difficult time for our party and these election results are a symptom of that.
‘We have the privilege of governing our country at a momentous time and we have a responsibility of delivering something truly historic.
‘What is momentous and historic is seldom simple and straightforward.
‘But I think there was a simple message from yesterday’s elections to both us and the Labour Party – just get on and deliver Brexit.’
The heckler is believed to be from the Clwyd South branch, which recently passed a vote of no confidence in Mrs May’s leadership.
The heckler was led away before Mrs May began speaking at the event in Llangollen, north Wales
Mrs May told the Welsh Conservative Conference: ‘Results are still coming in but it has been very difficult for our party. The picture is clear’
The Conservatives had already been braced for a tough night amid frustration at the Prime Minister’s failure to take Britain out of the EU on March 29 as planned.
But in a clear message to politicians to get their act together over Brexit the party had lost more than 400 seats before even half of councils had declared results today.
Before the vote Tory sources had suggested they could lose 800 seats across England, with a loss of 600 considered a ‘good night’.
There was little to cheer for Labour either, with the party – totally divided over whether to support a second referendum – looking set to lose more than 100 seats, with the Liberal Democrats the main beneficiaries.
The hit for Jeremy Corbyn’s party came at a point in the electoral cycle when they could expect to be making significant gains at the expense of the Government.
Labour and the Conservatives suffered the biggest losses in their heartlands of the North and South East as their traditional voters abandoned the two main parties.
In contrast, the Liberal Democrats said they enjoyed an ‘awesome’ night, with some predictions that they could gain up to 500 seats in their best results since 2003.
Polling expert Sir John Curtice declared voters had declared ‘a plague on both your houses’ – a sentiment echoed by Change UK MP Anna Soubry, formerly a Tory.
Some voters spoilt their ballot papers, writing ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Get May Out’. Elections were held for 8,245 seats on 248 local authorities across England and Northern Ireland – but not in London, Scotland or Wales.
Speaking in Manchester after Labour took control of Trafford Council, Mr Corbyn said the results had been ‘interesting, to put it mildly’.
He said: ‘The issues that dominated this election were to some extent Brexit rather than local issues which is what local elections are all about.’
Elections were held for 8,245 seats on 248 local authorities in England and Northern Ireland
Praying for good results? Jeremy Corbyn celebrated Labour taking Trafford Council in Manchester with party activists at the Waterside Arts Centre this morning
The Conservatives lost Peterborough, where the local election count is pictured last night
The Liberal Democrats celebrate winning control of Bath and North East Somerset Council from the Conservatives today
Ballot counting gets underway at the Hull City Council election count at the Guildhall last night
Some voters spoilt their ballot papers, writing ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘Get May Out’
Others tried to vote for the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage even though he wasn’t on the papers
Losing more than 800 seats would represent the Tories’ worst performance since 1995 when, under John Major’s leadership, the party lost 2,000 seats to a resurgent Labour Party led by Tony Blair.
Election results delayed due to spoilt ballots
Election results were delayed in parts of England after so many people had deliberately spoilt their ballot papers.
Some voters scribbled ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘Get May out’ or ‘traitors’ – and refused to mark crosses against any candidates’ names.
One of the spoilt local election ballot papers
Each of the spoilt papers had to be adjudicated, delaying the result in some areas – such as Ipswich, Suffolk.
One official in the hall said ‘We thought there would be quite a few spoilt papers, but nothing on the level we have seen – it took everyone by surprise. There seems to be a lot of anger and frustration out there.’
The result itself did not raise many eyebrows – Labour increased their majority by three and retained its grip on Ipswich Borough Council.
Spoiling a ballot paper is not illegal, although there are restrictions on photographing in polling stations.
The Conservatives lost Peterborough, Basildon, Southend, Worcester, St Albans, Welwyn Hatfield, Folkestone and Hythe, Broxtowe, Tendring and Tandridge to no overall control while Winchester, Chelmsford, Bath and North East Somerset, Somerset Wesand Taunton, Vale of White Horse, Cotswold and Hinckley and Bosworth fell to the Liberal Democrats, with North Kesteven going to independents.
However the party held on in the bellwether council of Swindon, seen as a possible Labour gain, and took Walsall and North East Lincolnshire from no overall control.
Broxbourne in Hertfordshire was one of the first results declared, which came back as a Tory hold, as was Havant in Hampshire, and Castle Point, Brentwood, Rochford and Epping Forest in Essex.
The Tories lost control of Basildon and Tandridge councils in Essex and Surrey respectively to no overall control after other parties won seven of the 14 seats up, with some wards still to declare.
In Chelmsford local MP Vicky Ford became upset during an interview after a bad night for the Tories in which they lost control of the council, losing a 45-seat majority.
Speaking to the BBC she said: ‘I think it is really disappointing when you look at some of the individuals who have lost their seats tonight.
‘People who have worked their socks off for Chelmsford.
‘Some of those councillors who have really worked so hard and helped to make Chelmsford so fantastic.
‘They have lost their seats as a result of what is happening nationally reflecting back in people not wanting to turn out and vote locally.’
The party retained control of Swindon in Wiltshire after winning 10 of the 19 seats up for election, with several seats still to declare.
Labour meanwhile lost control in Bolsover, Hartlepool and Wirral and the mayoralty in Middlesbrough, where its vote was down 11 per cent as independent Andy Preston was elected, although it did gain Trafford from no overall control.
Labour suffered a number of early losses in north-east England, losing four council seats in Hartlepool, five seats in South Tyneside and nine seats in Sunderland.
But it held Newcastle-upon-Tyne, along with Wigan, Exeter, Liverpool, Oldham, St Helens, Halton in Cheshire, Chorley in Lancashire, Lincoln, Coventry, Salford, Barnsley, Sunderland, Harlow in Essex, Wolverhampton and South Tyneside.
Even where the party held on in its traditional stronghold of Sunderland, which voted heavily for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, it still lost 10 council seats.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he has been following the local election results from Nairobi, Kenya.
He tweeted: ‘Following local election results from Nairobi, which look at this stage like a slap in the face for both the main parties.
‘My heart goes out to conservative councillors who have lost their seats. A few positive results too and big shock to see Labour lose Wirral and Hartlepool’.
Change UK MP Anna Soubry, formerly a Conservative, said the local election results tell the two main parties ‘plague on both your houses’.
She tweeted: ‘Strikes me that on the basis of the results in so far – the message to both main parties is ‘plague on both your houses.’ People are voting for change and change is indeed coming.’
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after voting at a polling station in Sonning, Berkshire
Both the Tories and Labour suffered big losses with Lib Dems and independents making gains
The Tories were particularly hammered on council control, but the Lib Dems made gains
Labour lost Wiral and Hartlepool – which is a unitary authority – to no overall control despite holding it since 2010.
As part of the Lib Dem surge, the party took control of Cotswold and Winchester councils from the Conservatives.
Local elections and the Brexit backlash
The Conservatives and Labour have both faced a backlash at the ballot box over Brexit while smaller parties and independents have surged ahead.
– Who are the winners?
With results in from 109 of the 248 councils where elections are being held, the Lib Dems had gained 302 and the Greens 35. There were 85 more independent councillors.
The Lib Dems took four councils from the Tories: Winchester, Cotswold, Bath and North East Somerset, and Hinckley and Bosworth, while North Kesteven went to independents.
Another point of satisfaction for the party came from the fact leading Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg now has a Liberal Democrat councillor representing him in Somerset.
– And the losers?
The Conservatives had lost 433 seats and Labour 85, while Ukip lost eight.
While the Tories took two councils – Walsall and North East Lincolnshire from no overall control – they lost Peterborough, Basildon, Southend, Worcester, St Albans, Welwyn Hatfield, Folkestone and Hythe, and Tandridge to no overall control. Labour was hoping to take Swindon from the Tories, but didn’t manage to.
– What are the Tories saying?
Brexit-backing Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said: ‘If the Conservative Party doesn’t mend its ways pretty quickly, the Conservative Party is going to be toast.
‘It is quite obvious that the Conservative Party has got to deliver Brexit – and a Brexit that really is Brexit.’
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the losses reflected the anger among voters over Brexit and called on MPs to rally behind Theresa May’s deal.
– And Labour?
Jeremy Corbyn’s party also struggled, losing seats at a point in the electoral cycle when they could expect to be making significant gains at the expense of the Government.
Labour lost control in Bolsover for the first time ever, in Hartlepool and in Wirral, although it did gain Trafford from no overall control.
The party’s national elections co-ordinator Andrew Gwynne accepted it had been ‘a difficult set of elections’ for the party and that Brexit had ‘undoubtedly’ been a factor.
Labour MP Jess Phillips reacted by saying her party’s position on Brexit had ‘failed’. And Labour MP Neil Coyle, a prominent critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, made clear that he believes the party should have done better.
– The Lib Dems are happy
As well as picking up councils from the Tories, the Lib Dems, who fought on a pro-Remain platform, took North Norfolk and North Devon from no overall control.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Sir Edward Davey said the party’s results were ‘equivalent to our best strides forward ever in our history’, comparable to surges following the Iraq War and during the meltdown of John Major’s administration.
He said: ‘It is just a fabulous night. We are clearly back in the game.’
– And the other parties?
Change UK MP Anna Soubry, formerly a Conservative, has said the local election results tell the two main parties ‘plague on both your houses’.
The recently formed party had not stood candidates in the local elections, but will be running in the EU elections later this month if they go ahead.
The Brexit Party also skipped these elections, but Ben Habib, Brexit Party MEP candidate for London, said: ‘We believe the vote to leave the EU and these elections are closely linked, and we are not surprised that Labour and the Tories appear to have been punished at the polls because Theresa May, her Government and the House of Commons have botched Brexit.’
And leading Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg now has a Liberal Democrat councillor representing him in Somerset.
It is the first time since 2003 that Labour held a majority of seats on Trafford council, and the first time since 2011 that the Liberal Democrats have a majority in Winchester.
The Liberal Democrats were on course for a strong performance, with predictions they could make as many as 500 gains.
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron tweeted: ‘Congratulations to all those Lib Dems who picked a ward…and won it!’
MP Ed Davey said his party was having an ‘awesome night’ thanks to voters rejecting Labour and the Conservatives, citing hard work rather than Brexit issues for their success.
He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today: ‘They are fantastic results, the Liberal Democrats are back in business. I think the British people have been crying out for an alternative.
‘We saw Conservative Remainers switching to the Lib Dems, Labour voters disappointed backing the Lib Dems, we’ve seen switches on the back of Brexit.’
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran claimed these are the best local election results for the party since 2003.
She tweeted: ‘To put the national results in context, these are the best Lib Dems local election results since 2003 – right in the aftermath of the Iraq war.’
Change UK MP Chuka Umunna, former member of the Labour Party, said the local election results illustrate that ‘politics is broken in Britain’.
He tweeted: ‘These local election results illustrate that people believe, as we do, that politics is broken in Britain and the two main parties are responsible, which is why our MPs left them – those parties can’t be the solution because they are part of the problem.’
The Conservatives gained control of Walsall for the first time since 2011, and control of North East Lincolnshire for the first time ever.
Brexit minister James Cleverly said it would be a ‘tough night’ for the Tories, who are expected to lose hundreds of seats.
Amid voter anger at the continuing wrangling over Brexit, Mr Cleverly suggested he would be relieved if the losses could be held to 500 council seats.
Mr Cleverly said he feared Brexit would dominate many voters considerations when he the told BBC News the Tories could lose as many as 1,000 seats: ‘Nine years into government you would expect us to be losing lots and lots of seats.
‘It would be unrealistic for me to pretend after nine years in government and Brexit as a backdrop that this is going to be anything other than a really, really tough night for us.
‘If it was 500 [seats lost], rather than 1,000, I would be happy with that.’
Conservative MP for Reigate Crispin Blunt said that the party needed to replace Theresa May as leader.
Mr Blunt told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I was publicly one of those who thought she should go in December. There is no reason for me to change that judgment.
‘She now formally has the leadership without a challenge under our rules until December, but plainly we are going to need a new leader at some point to get a clear strategy to get Brexit over the line.’
Mr Blunt warned of a split in the Tories if Mrs May took the ‘Ramsay MacDonald option’ of forging a Brexit deal with Labour, saying: ‘She would find there were very few Conservatives behind her if she were to do that deal.’
A deal with Jeremy Corbyn’s party would leave Mrs May in a similar position to MacDonald, who became ‘the most reviled Labour leader in their history and was left with very few Labour colleagues supporting him’ after he went into coalition with the Conservatives in the 1930s, said Mr Blunt.
John McDonnell said the party had got the message from voters.
The shadow chancellor said: ‘We’ll see what final results of local elections look like by end of day as they are pretty mixed geographically up to now but so far message from local elections – ”Brexit – sort it”. Message received.’
A voter leaves a poling station with her dogs after voting in Broadstairs, Kent, yesterday
The PM and her husband Philip talk to locals as they arrive to vote in Sonning yesterday
More than 8,000 seats are being contested yesterday, mostly in Shire counties like North Yorkshire, where the village hall in Shelton, near York, is being used as a polling station
Some voters in Skelton used the election as a way to get some exercise for their dogs
Tories suffer set-back in Onasanya city ahead of by-election with Brexit Party waiting to pounce
Tories efforts to gain the Westminster seat of disgraced MP Fiona Onasanya have taken a major blow after the party lost control of the local council.
The Conservatives have lost Peterborough City Council to no overall control after three years in charge of the consistently marginal authority.
A by-election will be held in the Cambridgeshire city in June after Onasanya, 35, became the first sitting MP to be booted from the Commons by a recall petition of voters.
The Tories were hoping to take the marginal Commons seat, which it lost by just 607 votes in 2017.
But the local election result raises serious questions about whether they can retake it, with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, planning to stand against them to take the votes of furious Brexiteers.
Peterborough voted 60-40 in favour of Leave in the 2016 referendum.
The Tories now hold 28 of 60 seats on the council after the party lost three seats to Labour and one each to the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats, but also gained one seat from Labour.
Ukip lost the only seat it held on the council to the Lib Dems.
Ms Onasanya, who was elected as a Labour MP in 2017, served 28 days in prison for lying about a speeding offence and was unseated from the Commons by her constituents.
The senior Tory Brexiteer MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said voters overwhelmingly believed that she had ‘lost the plot’ and that the time had come for a change of leader.
‘She still has a degree of personal sympathy but I think people think it is time for a change. They can see that she has lost the plot. They can see she is not in control of events,’ he told the BBC.
‘Certainly among Conservative activists and council candidates there is an almost universal feeling that it is time for her to move on.’
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner suggested they would be satisfied if they could take back the 200 seats they lost the last time these seats were fought in 2015.
‘These elections will be a test of the Conservative Party far more than a test of the Labour Party or any of the other parties,’ he told the BBC.
‘I would like us to come back to where we should have been the last time round.’
In contrast, the Liberal Democrats, who lost heavily in 2015, were buoyant, with deputy leader Jo Swinson predicting three-figure gains.
Tory party chairman Brandon Lewis told Sky News: ‘I have said for a while these are going to be tough elections for us.
‘The reality is we were fighting these elections from a real high water mark for us off the back of the 2015 general election.
‘People are frustrated with where they see parliamentarians are.
‘And the fact that we have found this impasse in parliament.
‘It’s a stark reminder to everybody in the House of Commons that we need to get past that impasse, deliver on what people voted for, and focus on that as parliamentarians as well.’
Elections took place in 248 English councils – including at this polling station in Loftus, North Yorkshire
All sorts of buildings are pressed into action as polling stations, including this church in Redcar, North Yorkshire
‘Stand in the middle of the road and you get run over in both directions’: Furious Labour politicians attack Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn came under fire from both leave and remain supporters in his own party today as Labour lost scores of council seats.
The party failed to gain votes from leavers, due to its perceived blocking of Brexit, or from remainers, due to its reluctance to back a second referendum.
By 10am this morning, Labour had lost three councils and nearly 80 seats nationwide.
MP for Redcar Anna Turley tweeted: ‘Stand in the middle of the road and you get run over in both directions.’
After Labour lost ten seats in Sunderland council, the local leader said voters there were unhappy at the idea the party could back a second EU vote.
Greame Miller, leader of Sunderland council, said: ‘We lost 10 seats and my view of is very, very simple: Sunderland voted as a city to leave in June 2016.
‘Having had a Labour message across the city from members of Parliament saying that we need to be having a People’s Vote, a second referendum, people in Sunderland have said ‘we’re just not accepting that from the Labour party’.
‘I have lost 10 councillors tonight because of that Brexit situation where the Brexit message has stepped into and over local politics and that’s the outcome.’
Labour has lost overall control in party stronghold Bolsover, Derbyshire for the first time.
The traditional Labour heartland constituency voted 70% to leave in the EU referendum.
‘Out and about across the country, the mood has been positive. If we can get into the triple figures of gains that would be a really, really good night,’ she said.
‘That would be part of that Lib Dem fightback that is happening.’
Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC the Conservatives ‘are being punished’ for not delivering Brexit.
Both Labour and the Tories have their eyes on gaining a majority in Dudley, Trafford and Walsall, which remained Conservative.
The Tories were hoping to gain control in Thurrock but lost the ward to independents.
Votes were also cast for six mayors, two of which were won by independents and all 11 councils in Northern Ireland.
Change UK MP Mike Gapes, formerly of Labour, said early local election results suggested ‘big moves away’ from Jeremy Corbyn’s party and the Conservatives.
He tweeted: ‘Early results of local elections indicate big moves away from both Conservatives and Corbyn Labour.
‘Another indication that Corbyn Labour is unable to capitalise on the incompetent dysfunctional Conservative Government.’
Voter turnout has yet to be confirmed. In local elections in 2018 there was a turnout of just 36 per cent, but in 2015, when polls coincided with a general election, turnout reached around 64 per cent.
Conservatives were concerned Leave-backing supporters would stay at home or switch to Ukip in anger at Mrs May’s failure to deliver Brexit on time on March 29.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson told Sky News: ‘I think the message is pretty clear. It seems to be a plague on both your houses to the Conservatives and the Labour Party, who they see as a block on finding some sort of resolution to Brexit.
‘So, we know that the talks are ongoing; hopefully, this will focus minds in the room and, hopefully, we can get past the impasse that we are in and move on to the next stage.’
Pubs are also being used as polling stations, including The Crown Inn in Birchington in Kent
Voters go to a polling station in Whitley Bay, North Tyneside, yesterday
Another polling station has been set up inside a pub – the White Horse Inn in Priors Dean, Hampshire
A ballot box being carried into a polling station in Saltburn By The Sea, North Yorkshire
Many youngsters are getting a taste of democracy yesterday as their parents take them to the polls. Pictured is a mother and her child in Guisborough, North Yorkshire
‘Lib Dems are back in business!’: Jubilant party claims victory as they take 300 council seats
The Liberal Democrats claim they are ‘back in business’ after taking hundreds of council seats from Labour and the Tories.
The party’s support had crashed in the wake of Nick Clegg’s disastrous decision to go into coalition with David Cameron in 2010, and they currently have just 11 MPs.
But by 9am this morning, the Lib Dems had won more than 300 council seats and taken control of nine councils.
The party cashed in on the main two parties’ failure to deliver Brexit as voters turned to them as one of few alternatives.
Experts say their message that they want to stop Brexit meant they picked up support from remain voters.
MP and former minister Sir Ed Davey said the results were ‘equivalent to our best strides forward ever in our history’.
‘We are clearly back in the game,’ he said. ‘People have been frustrated with the appalling Tory Government, who have let them down not just on Brexit but with cuts to police and schools, and a split opposition with such poor leadership.’
The Liberal Democrats hoped to seize Winchester.
Theresa May cast her vote in local elections yesterday as her Tory party admitted that losing up to 600 seats would be a ‘good night’ for the party, which fears a massive Brexit backlash at the ballot box.
Accompanied by husband Philip she voted at a polling station in her Maidenhead constituency this afternoon with the Conservatives primed to take a hiding in votes taking place across the country.
It is widely believed that Brexit-backing voters in the Shires – which make up the bulk of council seats being contested – will turn against them after the UK’s departure from the EU was twice delayed from March 29.
But some – including election guru Professor Sir John Curtice – have claimed the absence of the Brexit Party from the ballots and the lack of UKIP candidates will be a silver lining for the Prime Minister and her party.
Millions are heading to the polls yesterday for local elections which could see the Conservative party take a hammering across the country.
There are also polls for six elected mayors in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and the new North of Tyne devolved regional authority.
Close to 60 per cent of the 8,425 seats up for grabs in England were originally Conservative, with a quarter held by Labour before the night began.
Conservatives fear Leave-backing supporters will stay at home or switch to Ukip in anger at Mrs May’s failure to deliver Brexit on time on March 29. Pictured is a polling station is Saltburn
Many experts fear the Tories could experience their worst local election demise since 1995 when the party lost 2,000 seats. A polling station is pictured in Redcar, North Yorkshire
Polling stations are dotted about the UK in a variety of different locations including schools, churches, community centres and caravans. Pictured is one in High Offley in Staffordshire
Activists were out campaigning, with some handing out leaflets, including one in east Belfast
Some believe the Brexit chaos will put off the electorate from even voting at all. Volunteers are pictured here manning the station at the White Horse Inn in Priors Dean, Hampshire
What you need to know about yesterday’s local elections
Where are the local elections taking place?
Elections are being held in 248 English councils outside London, and 11 local authority areas in Northern Ireland.
There are also polls for six elected mayors in Bedford, Copeland, Leicester, Mansfield, Middlesbrough and the new North of Tyne devolved regional authority.
Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm. Counting will take place overnight in about 120 areas but will be carried out during the following day in others, with the last result not expected until about 9pm on Friday.
What does the picture currently look like?
Nearly 60 per cent of the 8,425 seats up for grabs in England are currently Conservative, with a quarter held by Labour.
A majority of seats involved were last contested in 2015, at a point when the Conservatives were on an electoral high, securing their first House of Commons majority for 18 years on the same day.
Under David Cameron, the Tories comfortably topped the poll, gaining 32 councils and 541 councillors as Labour and the Liberal Democrats both slumped.
How are the parties likely to fare this time round?
In terms of council seats, the Conservatives are currently at a historic high for a governing party after nine years in power, making losses all but inevitable even if the Tories were not riven by disputes over Brexit.
Conservative peer and elections expert Lord Hayward has predicted the loss of 800 or more councillors for Mrs May’s party – around a sixth of the seats they are defending.
He predicts that Liberal Democrats will be the principal beneficiaries, gaining 500 or more seats to Labour’s 300. Any gains higher than this would be regarded as a big success for the two opposition parties.
Most of the electoral battles are in the Tory shires or Labour strongholds in northern cities, limiting the prospects for large-scale gains by Jeremy Corbyn’s party.
Will voters’ thoughts on how Brexit is panning out have much of an impact?
As well as local factors, the ongoing row over Brexit is expected to play a major role in the elections. Conservatives fear Leave-backing supporters will stay at home or switch to Ukip in anger at Mrs May’s failure to deliver Brexit on time on March 29.
Labour risks losing votes from the Remain backers who make up a majority of its supporters if it appears too lukewarm on a second referendum, but could suffer in Brexit-voting areas of the Midlands and the North if it is seen to oppose EU withdrawal.
Are there any councils in particular to watch?
In Dudley, Trafford and Derby, Labour could gain overall control, while in Swindon, Great Yarmouth, Redditch and St Albans, control could slip out of Tory hands. The Liberal Democrats are hoping to seize Winchester.
What happens next?
The polls will be swiftly followed by elections to the European Parliament on May 23 – unless the Prime Minister is able to ratify her Brexit deal in time to halt them.
However, local results may not be a good guide to the Euro-elections, as neither Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party nor the Remain-backing Change UK are fielding candidates on May 2.
Polls suggest the European elections may be treated as a proxy second referendum by many voters, with Tories currently trailing in third place behind the Brexit Party and Labour.
The last time a majority of the seats were fought over in 2015, the Tories were on an electoral high as they secured their first Commons majority since 1992 on the same day.
Most of the electoral battles are in the Tory shires or Labour strongholds in northern cities, limiting the prospects for large-scale gains by Jeremy Corbyn’s party.
The results are unlikely to be a guide for European elections scheduled for later in the month, as neither Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party nor the Remain-backing Change UK are fielding candidates.
However, Brexit is expected to play a major role in the elections.
Conservatives fear Leave-backing supporters will stay at home or switch to Ukip in anger at Mrs May’s failure to deliver Brexit on time on March 29.
In contrast Ukip, which has been hit by a slew of defections to the Brexit Party and controversy over its links with English Defence League co-founder Tommy Robinson, is contesting just 16 per cent of seats.
An analysis by Tory election expert Rob Hayward predicted the party was on course to lose more than 800 council seats, and some senior figures privately fear they could lose more than 1,000.
Key battlegrounds include Dudley, Trafford and Derby, where Labour could gain overall control, and Swindon, Great Yarmouth, Redditch and St Albans, where control could slip out of Tory hands.
Sir John said on Wednesday the day would be a disaster for Theresa May only if Conservatives stayed at home.
The losses are expected to be particularly high because the Conservatives did very well last time – in 2015 – when they also won a majority at the general election.
Sir John, who is professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘We have to remember that the Brexit Party is not on the ballot paper tomorrow and Ukip are only fighting around one in six of the seats.
‘So those Leave voters who are unhappy with the Conservatives over Brexit frankly face the choice in most of the local elections of either turning out to vote and still voting for the Conservatives – because I doubt that they’ll consider voting for Labour or the Lib Dems – or staying at home.
‘Therefore, probably, the results won’t be quite as bad for the Conservatives as perhaps some of the impression you might have from the headline opinion polls.’
A heavy defeat would likely set off a fresh wave of demands for Mrs May to name a date for her departure.
Lord Hayward, a former Conservative MP, said the Tories appeared to be on course for their worst drubbing since 1995 when Tony Blair crushed John Major’s divided government and the party lost 2,000 seats.
He said: ‘This was always going to be a difficult election because the seats the Conservatives are defending were won on a very good night for them in 2015.
‘But the results are unquestionably going to be worse because of the current situation.
‘People don’t know who the leader of the Tory Party is going to be and there is anger amongst Tory Brexiteers that the party has not delivered.
‘There was a noticeable dip when the Prime Minister agreed to delay Brexit. That has calmed down a bit because there has been less debate about Brexit in the last fortnight. But at best, the Tories are at the crest of a trough.’
If the results are as bad as forecast it will be the worst result for any governing party since 2003 when Labour leader Mr Blair lost more than 1,100 seats following a backlash over the Iraq War.
Liberal Democrats gain power in Bath as Conservatives slump
The Liberal Democrats have won control of Bath and North East Somerset Council from the Conservatives.
Sir Vince Cable’s party won 37 seats – including the ward where prominent Brexiteer MP Jacob Rees-Mogg lives – to gain an overall majority of 15.
Casualties included leader of the council Tim Warren, who lost his Mendip seat to Liberal Democrat David Wood, cabinet member for transport Mark Shelford and veteran Conservative councillor Les Kew, who was beaten by 20-year-old Ryan Wills.
Green, Conservative and Liberal Democrat activists watch ballot counting for Bath and North East Somerset Council last night
The Conservatives had won control of the council in 2015 from the Liberal Democrats and held 36 seats, but were left with just 11.
One of the big election issues in Bath was the introduction in 2020 of a clean air zone in the city and the imposing of a levy on taxis, buses, coaches, lorries and vans.
The outgoing Conservative leader blamed Brexit for the ‘kicking’ they received at the ballot box, but stopped short of calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to resign.
Speaking after he lost his seat, Mr Warren, who will remain leader of the council until the annual general meeting, said: ‘I feel we’ve been given a kicking for something that wasn’t our fault.
The counting of ballots gets underway at the University of Bath yesterday evening
‘I don’t think people are happy. The people that voted to remain blame us for leaving and the people that voted to leave blame us because we haven’t left yet. I think it’s almost anti-political.’
Councillor Dine Romero, the Lib Dem group leader, said she was ‘stunned’ by the victory. ‘I am beyond pleased and it is a most astonishing result and far greater than could possibly be expected or even hoped for,’ she said.
‘Quite clearly it is a combination of national and local issues that have tipped the scales in our favour this time round.’