Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire from within his own party as Theresa May’s hopes of a crushing General Election victory on June 8 were boosted by disastrous results for both Labour and Ukip in the local elections.
Early results showed the Conservatives picking up more than 270 councillors and gaining control of eight authorities as supporters of Ukip seemingly switched in droves to the Tories.
Mrs May’s party also inflicted heavy defeats on Labour in areas previous regarded as nailed-on heartlands. Jeremy Corby’s party shed more than 140 council seats, lost control of Glasgow for the first time in four decades and suffered reverses in Welsh strongholds.
They also surprisingly lost control of Derbyshire, where Brexit was cited as a key reason for the switch.
At 5pm, the Tories had gained control of an additional 11 councils and a mammoth 541 seats. Labour, in contrast, had shed 366 seats and six councils in total.
Elections expert Michael Thrasher told Sky News Ukip’s share of the national vote could fall as low as 3%, down from 22% in the same contests in 2013.
The results will be also be regarded as a significant show of personal support for the Prime Minister and her combative approach to Brexit negotiations.
And in Scotland, the Tories picked up seats in areas in which they have historically performed badly.
While most of the surge was at the expense of Labour, the result is also disappointing for the SNP, who had hoped to pick up an increase in votes on the back of their demand for a second independence referendum.
Results available at 5pm showed the SNP had picked up more than 383 seats, a net loss of 14.
The results will be hugely damaging for Labour and Mr Corbyn in particular, with senior voices within the party blaming in for a collapse in the vote.
One Labour candidate told The Times: ‘He is radioactive on the doorstep,’ they said.
‘Local campaigns have been desperate for him not to come and campaign for them.’
Stephen Kinnock, a senior Labour MP, said: “I think we can’t just put a spin on this – the fact of the matter is that Jeremy’s leadership does come up on the doorstep on a very regular basis. What we have to do is make this election about more than leadership.”
“We are seeing from people on the doorstep that they are worried about the polarisation of our politics, they do feel there is a shift to the hard left and a shift to the hard right.”
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell acknowledged that Labour had suffered a “tough” night as it struggled in some of its Welsh heartlands and failed to resist Tory advances in England.
But he told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain the results were not “the wipeout that people expected” and insisted it is still “all to play for” in the General Election in just five weeks’ time.
He also insisted his leader was an asset and that a TV debate would allow voters to make their minds up about Mr Corbyn.
Ukip suffered significant reverses, with voters switching to the Tories in a pattern which could provide a major boost to Mrs May as she hopes to strengthen her grip on power next month.
The party, led by Paul Nuttall, had lost all but one of 81 seats it was defending.
Aaron Banks, the former Ukip backer, criticised the current leadership and said the party should be put down with a “strategic bullet to the head”.
He said: ‘If we use the analogy of Ukip as a racing car, Nigel (Farage) was a skilled driver who drove the car around the track faster and faster, knowing when to take risks, delighting the audience.
‘The current leadership has crashed the car, at the first bend of the race, into the crowd, killing the driver and spectators.
‘As one of the Leave.EU team said to me: a strategic bullet to the back of the head.’
But Mr Nuttall put the poor results down to the Tories talking tough on Brexit.
He said: “It’s been a difficult night. Frankly, there is nothing they could have done in the face of a big national swing to the Tories.
“Our electoral success over recent years was a key driver in forcing the Conservatives to embrace our cause under a new prime minister who was campaigning for a Remain vote in the referendum a year ago.
The Liberal Democrats were having a mixed election, failing to breakthrough against the Tories in the south-west England battleground.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said Tories were winning over voters from all the other parties.
“A lot of people seem, yesterday, now to have been voting Tory,” he told the BBC.
“Former Liberal Democrat voters are coming back, I think there is some evidence – because of Jeremy Corbyn’s very feeble leadership – we are seeing Labour voters coming over to us as well.
“Voters who previously voted for all three – Lib Dem, Labour and Ukip – are now seeing that what this country needs is a government with a full, working majority to negotiate a good, successful exit from the European Union and to build a stronger, fairer Britain after that.
“To do that you need a proper working majority and that’s what Theresa May is asking for from people who previously wouldn’t have voted for us and may well have voted either Ukip or Labour.”