Early results from the local elections showed smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have scooped seats, while the Tories endured losses amid frustration over Theresa May's leadership.
Labour also faced a tough night, with early results showing losses when the party could have expected to seize seats from the government.
There are 8,374 seats up for grabs in England – the majority of which were Tory-held – at 33 metropolitan councils, 119 district councils, and 30 unitary authorities.
With results from 95 of the 248 councils, the Conservatives lost 254 seats and Labour lost 45, while the Lib Dems gained 177 and the Greens won 33 seats.
The Tories lost control of a string of councils, including Peterborough, Basildon, Southend, Worcester, St Albans, Welwyn Hatfield, Folkestone and Hythe, and Tandridge to no overall control while Winchester and Cotswold fell to the Liberal Democrats.
However the party clung onto Swindon, which had been regarded as a possible win for Labour and took Walsall and North East Lincolnshire from no overall control.
Brexit minister James Cleverly sought to manage expectations for his party's performance, saying a loss of 500 seats would be a good result.
With some analysts predicting overall Tory loses of 800 seats, he said: "Nine years into government you would expect us to be losing lots and lots of seats.
"It would be unrealistic for me to pretend after nine years in government and Brexit as a backdrop that this is going to be anything other than a really, really tough night for us.
"If it was 500 (seats lost), rather than 1,000, I would be happy with that."
Brexiteers blamed Ms May for the performance, with Sir Bernard Jenkin saying voters believed that she had "lost the plot".
"They can see that she has lost the plot. They can see she is not in control of events," he said.
"Certainly among Conservative activists and council candidates there is an almost universal feeling that it is time for her to move on."
Ex-cabinet minister Priti Patel echoed his concerns, saying voters regarded Ms May as "part of the problem".
"I just don't think we can continue like this. We need change, we need a change of leadership. Perhaps the time has now come for that," she told the BBC.
Labour lost control of councils in its heartlands of Bolsover, Hartlepool and Wirral and the mayoralty in Middlesbrough, although it did gain Trafford from no overall control.
Even where the party held on in its traditional stronghold of Sunderland, which voted heavily for Brexit in the 2016 referendum, it still lost 10 council seats.
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner admitted it had been difficult to communicate the party's convoluted Brexit stance on the doorstep.
"If a party is seen to be speaking with two voices, it is very difficult to connect when the policy of the party is a complex policy," he told the BBC.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were buoyant over their results after dramatically snatching Winchester and Cotswold from the Tories and North Norfolk from no overall control.
Education spokesperson Layla Moran said: "To put the national results in context, these are the best Lib Dems local election results since 2003 - right in the aftermath of the Iraq war."
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