Labour was on course to make hundreds of gains from the Coalition parties early today amid signs the party's health is beginning to recover in the South.
A series of target councils fell to Labour across the country in all parts of England – with the party confident of regaining control of Birmingham, the biggest local authority outside London.
Birmingham had previously been run by a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition that echoed the power-sharing government in Westminster. Both Tories and Liberal Democrats admitted they faced a grim night in the face of the Labour advance.
However, there were also signs the Conservatives were losing significant support to the UK Independence Party. The loss of voters to Ukip will prompt calls from Tory MPs for the party to pursue more a more right-wing agenda.
Ed Miliband's party will be most heartened by signs it was attracting back swing voters in the South and the Midlands. Labour also looked certain to gain Southampton City Council, where the Tories had previously had a slim majority, and to oust the Conservatives from office in Plymouth. It also won Exeter City Council, a result it claimed was at the "outer edge of expectations".
Labour seized control of Harlow council which the Tories had previously held with a precarious majority of one. It gained five seats in the Essex town which has swapped allegiance between the Tories and Labour over the last three decades.
Within an hour, it gained control of the nearby council of Thurrock. It was polling strongly in the Essex authorities of Southend, where the Tories lost overall control, and Basildon. Five gains also delivered Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, to Labour. The Conservatives were also ousted from control in Gloucester and the Hampshire authority of Hart, which both became a hung councils. The Tories were ejected from running Worcester, where Labour gained three seats and the Greens picked up their first seat.
Elsewhere in the Midlands, Labour won overall control of Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwickshire, after gaining seven seats from the Tories. It also gained Cannock Chase in Staffordshire and North East Lincolnshire from no overall control.
Labour gained an overall majority in Carlisle, where the Tories had been in minority control. In the Merseyside council of Knowsley, Labour captured the last four Liberal Democrat seats and now has a clean sweep of the authority's 63 seats. In Halton, Cheshire, Labour picked up six seats.
On a grim night for the Liberal Democrats, they lost Cambridge to no overall control but held on to Eastleigh, Hants.
Key battles: First declarations
Birmingham Labour claims victory in the city from ruling Tory-Lib Dem coalition.
Harlow Swing constituency captured by Labour from narrow Conservative control.
Exeter Five Labour gains in three-way contest wins the city for the party.
Southampton Tory vote slumps to hand city to Labour.
Nottingham Voters reject having a directly-elected Mayor by 57.5 per cent to 42.5 per cent.