The British National Party was heading towards winning a record number of local councillors. In several of its target areas, such as Stoke-on-Trent, Essex, Lancashire and the Black Country, the far-right party was making significant gains.
It was also on course to gain a block of councillors in the east London borough of Barking and Dagenham.
The BNP appeared to be capitalising on disillusionment with Labour among white working-class voters, particularly those close to areas with large ethnic minority populations. In Stoke, once dominated by Labour, it won three more seats to take its tally of councillors to five. It played on Islamophobia in the city, campaigning against the building of a mosque.
The BNP gained three seats in the West Midlands council of Sandwell, where it now has four councillors. It won its first seat on the councils in Redditch, Worcestershire, and Pendle, Lancashire.
The party polled strongly in the suburban Essex council of Epping Forest, on the fringes of east London, where it doubled its representation to six.
The BNP's top target in the south of England was Barking and Dagenham, where it fielded 13 candidates, exploiting hostility to an influx of ethnic minorities over the previous decade.
Labour and the unions attempted to rally support, particularly in wards with large ethnic minority support. Last month Margaret Hodge, the Work minister and the Barking MP, warned that eight out of ten people in the area were prepared to vote for the far-right party.
Many Labour activists were aghast at her comments, believing she had inadvertently talked up the BNP's prospects.
Liam Smith, the candidate for the River ward and agent for the party, said her comments had "pushed them into the limelight".
Mr Smith said: "The comments obviously spurred the BNP on and encouraged people to vote for them in my eyes. They were pushed into the public eye."
As counting took place amid high tension at the Castle Green centre in Dagenham, dozens of police officers in stab vests lined the entrances and flanked the rows of counting tables.
Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said the Barking and Dagenham results reflected concerns over the pace of change in London. "This is a failure of politics, it's not a desire to support a racist party," he said.
Counting in other BNP target boroughs will take place later today. They include Burnley, Calderdale and Kirklees.
The BNP began the night with 23 councillors and was aiming to increase the total between 30 and 40. It fielded more than 350 councillors, its highest ever total, although less than the 600 it had originally planned.Reuse content