The haves stuck with coalition parties in the first voting test since Chancellor George Osborne's cuts announcement but the have-nots swung strongly to Labour.
In a larger than usual clutch of 13 council by-elections the Tories' vote held up or shifted to their Westminster Liberal Democrat allies across a swathe of prosperous southern England - with the exception of the urban enclave of Oxford.
But there were huge swings to Labour in the sole northern big city contest at Sheffield and at Bassetlaw on the Nottinghamshire-Yorkshire border.
Labour's Mike Rowley won a landslide victory against Liberal Democrats at Barton and Sandhills, Oxford, in a ward where his party took another seat in May's main polls.
Its candidate John Jones also recovered a River ward, Medway Council, seat lost to Tories in August.
The councillor elected then stood down after being advised that he could not serve in the role and remain a special constable.
Tory Miles Thomas gained from Liberal Democrats at Newton, Swansea.
The party also recaptured a seat at Great Missenden, Chiltern District, Buckinghamshire, where the former councillor had gone independent.
But Lib Dem Iain Murdoch won from Tories at Capel, Leigh and Newdigate, Mole Valley District, Surrey.
Lib Dems also narrowly missed gains from Conservatives in three other southern seats.
But party leader Nick Clegg might be concerned at the large swings to Labour at Oxford and at Manor Castle in his own city of Sheffield, which are both in marginal Commons constituencies where Liberal Democrats might have had hopes.
Sheffield Central Labour MP Paul Blomfield said: "On the day after the comprehensive spending review, Nick Clegg has been sent a very clear message from my constituency in the heart of Sheffield.
"This is a fantastic result for Labour and a devastating result for the Lib Dems. People are angry about this Government's attack on jobs, housing and local services."
The Bassetlaw result means Conservatives have lost overall control of the authority after a by-election defeat last month.
Labour's constituency MP John Mann commented: "After only six months of government, people in Bassetlaw are already fed up with the Tories and have told the Lib Dems to get lost."
Bassetlaw Borough - Harworth: Lab 1345, C 182, Ind 68, Lib Dem 39. (May 2010 - Lab 2345, C 891). Lab hold. Swing 13.1% C to Lab.
Chiltern District - Ashley Green, Latimer and Chenies: C 399, Lib Dem 92, Lab 47, Ukip 11. (May 2007 - C 501, Lib Dem 113, Lab 52). C hold. Swing 1.1% C to Lib Dem.
Chiltern District - Great Missenden: C 306, Lib Dem 281, Ukip 90. (May 2007 - C 536, Lib Dem 214). C hold. Swing 19.6% C to Lib Dem.
East Staffordshire Borough - Abbey: C 604, Lab 84. (May 2007 - C 865, Lab 135). C hold. Swing 1.3% Lab to C.
Elmbridge Borough - Hersham North: C 463, Ind 453, Lab 135. (May 2010 - C 1450, Lib Dem 661, Lab 458, Ind 320). C hold. Swing 1.5% C to Lab.
Elmbridge Borough - St Georges Hill: Ind 515, C 412, Lab 36. (May 2010 - C 1467, Ind 1031, Lib Dem 361, Lab 207). Ind hold. Swing 0.9% C to Lab.
Hampshire County - Andover South: C 1183, Lib Dem 1111, Lab 245, Ukip 233. (May 2009 - C 2102, Lib Dem 961, Ukip 916, Lab 303). C hold. Swing 12% C to Lib Dem.
Medway Borough - River: Lab 695, C 631, Lib Dem 92, Ukip 42, Green 36, English Democrats 31. (May 2007 - Two seats Lab 791, C 770, Lab 712, C 660, Lib Dem 161, Ukip 131, Lib Dem 127, Medway Ind Party 119; August 12 2010 by-election - C 617, Lab 544, Lib Dem 104, Green 45, BNP 39, English Democrats 33). Lab gain from C. Swing 1.1% C to Lab.
Mendip District - Ashwick, Chilcompton and Stratton: C 491, Lib Dem 440, Lab 111, Green 46. (May 2007 - Two seats C 791, 719, Lib Dem 374, 300, Lab 188, 162). C hold. Swing 14.1% C to Lib Dem.
Mole Valley District - Capel, Leigh and Newdigate: Lib Dem 618, C 558, Ukip 97, Green 61. (May 2010 - C 1193, Lib Dem 1034, Ukip 169, Green 112). Lib Dem gain from C. Swing 5.4% C to Lib Dem.
Oxford City - Barton and Sandhills: Lab 837, Lib Dem 334, Green 119, C 86, Ukip 48, Ind 42. (May 2010 - Lab 1239, Lib Dem 815, C 661, Green 188). Lab gain from Lib Dem. Swing 9.8% Lib Dem to Lab.
Sheffield City - Manor Castle: Lab 2092, Lib Dem 303, Green 224, C 142. (May 2010 - Lab 3371, Lib Dem 1552, BNP 465, C 438, Green 260). Lab hold. Swing 17.4% Lib Dem to Lab.
Swansea City - Newton: C 545, Lib Dem 299, Lab 187, Ind 108, Plaid Cymru 31. (May 2008 - Lib Dem 718, C 497, Green 115). C gain from Lib Dem. Swing 18.8% Lib Dem to C.Reuse content