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Coalition woe as Labour makes gains

The coalition has endured a battering as Labour racked up heavy gains in local elections.

The Opposition claimed it was "exceeding expectations" by seizing control of key councils such as Thurrock, Harlow, Southampton, Birmingham, Great Yarmouth and Chorley.

David Cameron was also embarrassed by losses in the backyard of his Commons constituency - with Labour taking the seats of Witney Central, Witney East and Chipping Norton.

In a further blow, Nottingham ignored pleas from the Prime Minister and rejected proposals for an elected mayor. It voted against by 57.5% to 42.5%, with other cities expected to follow suit.

The Liberal Democrats were not spared pain, suffering a further cull of their councillors as voters seemingly punished the Government for austerity measures.

However, there were rumours of a setback for Labour in Bradford, with speculation the party's council leader could have been defeated by a Respect candidate. The result would emulate George Galloway's shock success in last month's parliamentary by-election.

The Tories also pointed to a low turnout, estimated at around 30%, suggesting that "apathy" had played a significant part in the results.

Liberal Democrat foreign minister Jeremy Browne pointed to his party's success in holding Cheltenham and remaining the largest party in Cambridge, even though the authority slipped to no overall control.

He told Sky News: "I have some sort of encouragement for the Lib Dems. I'm not saying it's easy for us - it's tough being in government in midterm, making difficult decisions to get the country on its feet again.

"But where we have the longest track record, where we have been running councils or a dominant force on councils we have been remarkably resilient, we've held up very well."