David Cameron's dream of elected mayors in all major cities looked to be in tatters today.
Voters in Manchester, Nottingham, Coventry and Bradford said No to the idea in referendums and there were signs that other cities may have followed suit.
The results are embarrassing for the Prime Minister, who had thrown his weight firmly behind the change.
Mr Cameron had attempted to use the example of London Mayor Boris Johnson, saying he wanted a "Boris in every city".
However, critics argued that the proposals were unnecessary and would add another expensive layer of bureaucracy.
Manchester voted against by a margin of 53.24% to 46.76%, and Nottingham by 57.5% to 42.5%. Both cities had a low turnout of 24%.
The outcome in Coventry was more resounding, with just 36.42% backing the change and 63.58% opposing it. In Bradford the vote was 44.87% for and 55.13% against.
Nottingham City Council's Labour leader Jon Collins said: "This was a referendum imposed on us by the Coalition Government which the majority of local people clearly did not agree with. I am pleased with this outcome because an elected mayor would have been expensive and unnecessary.
"This outcome shows that local people recognise we have a system in Nottingham which is working well for them and the city."
Housing Minister Grant Shapps defended the mayoral referendums, telling Sky News: "People should have the right to decide how they are governed in their local area."
He added: "The whole point is to give people a say. No-one is forcing mayors on anyone."
Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington Jack Dromey said the city's voters were likely to have rejected an elected mayor.
"The straws in the wind are that it is likely to be a No vote, but we will see," he said.
Results from Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sheffield and Wakefield were being announced later today.
Stuart Drummond, the directly-elected Mayor of Hartlepool, blamed Westminster coalition divisions for the failure to secure support for more such positions.
Mr Drummond was originally voted in in 2002 as part of a publicity stunt campaign for the local football club and its monkey mascot but has since been re-elected twice.
"I think the Government have approached this in completely haphazard, half-hearted way," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme - complaining he and other existing mayors had not been consulted.
"If they really did think this was the best way forward then surely they would have imposed it on places rather than leave it to chance," he suggested.
"Because the Lib Dems have always been against the mayoral system, there has never been a true coalition policy for it and it just seems to be one of David Cameron's little hobby horses."