Jeremy Corbyn has struck a defiant tone after his party was punished by voters in Scotland and Wales in his first big test since becoming Labour leader.
In a highly symbolic result the party was pushed into third place behind the Conservatives in Scotland – losing 13 seats while the Tories gained 31 the party’s best ever result north of the border. Labour, however, performed better than expected in southern parts of England.
Speaking in Sheffield, Mr Corbyn said: "All across England we were getting predictions that Labour would lose councils - we didn't - and we hung on and we grew support in a lot of places, and there's a lot more results to come today.
"I want to send this message to our party in Scotland - well done on the campaign you fought, well done on the determination you've shown. There is a lot of building to do in Scotland.
"We will be with you, we will be walking hand-in-hand with the party in Scotland to build that support once again."
It was not a night of triumph for the SNP either. Nicola Sturgeon was deprived of an overall majority in Scottish Parliament with six fewer MSPs than in 2011 lessening the prospect of another independence referendum.
In Wales, Labour lost the totemic seat of Rhondda in the Welsh Assembly to the Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood. Ukip has also made a breakthrough in Wales so far securing five Assembly seats – mainly at the expense of Labour.
Among those elected was the disgraced former Tory MP Neil Hamilton who won 25,000 votes to be elected as assembly member for Mid and West Wales.
But the scale of predicted losses in English local elections did not materialise with Labour retaining control key councils such as Crawley, Southampton, Norwich and Hastings, where its vote had looked vulnerable.
An analysis of the council results by the BBC suggested that Labour's vote share was down about 6 per cent since 2012 - the last time the seats in England were contested. However it was up 4 per cent on the general election in key wards, with the Conservatives down by a similar amount.
Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson admitted that the party had a mountain to climb if it was to stand any chance of being competitive at the next General Election.
“I don't have all the answers but I understand the seriousness of the task ahead,” he said, when questioned on Labour's huge losses in Scotland.
But he gave Mr Corbyn a stay of execution from his backbench critics adding: “After eight months it would be unfair and improper to hang this result on Jeremy Corbyn's peg alone".
Others, however, were less forgiving. Veteran backbencher David Winnick said the leader should consider stepping down in the interests of the party.
"It is quite clear from last night's results that the chances of electoral success in 2020 are, to say the least, remote," he said.
"The party faces a crisis and the onus is on Jeremy himself. He should decide whether his leadership is helping or hindering the party.”
The leader of the Labour group on Portsmouth Council, John Ferret, denounced Mr Corbyn as "incompetent" and "incapable of giving the leadership we need".
Later, there is expected to be better news for Mr Corybyn when Sadiq Khan, the party’s candidate for London Mayor, is expected to defeat Zac Goldsmith to seize the mantle of London Mayor from the Tories. That result is expected late this afternoon.
The Labour candidate has been hotly tipped to succeed Boris Johnson, despite controversy over allegations of links to extremists made by his rival.
With around a fifth of vote verified, Mr Khan was narrowly ahead of Mr Goldsmith, followed by with the pair's rivals lagging far behind.
The Green Party's candidate Sian Berry was in third place, followed by Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon, Ukip's Peter Whittle, Sophie Walker from the Women's Equality Party and George Galloway for Respect
Among the highlights of the results so far:
- The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson secured a seat at Holyrood on the first past the post part of the election by winning Edinburgh Central from the SNP. But the Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale was left relying on the top-up system for a seat as she failed to take Edinburgh Eastern.
- The Liberal Democrats also made a small resurgence north of the border with their leader Willie Rennie returning to Holyrood in North East Fife, while the party also took Edinburgh Western from the SNP and held on to the Orkney and Shetland islands.
- With results in from 81 out of 124 councils declared, Labour was down by 25 seats, Ukip up 20, Conservatives up 9 and Lib Dems up eight.
- Labour lost control of Dudley council in the West Midlands, but held on to major cities including Birmingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Sunderland, as well as key southern outposts like Exeter, Southampton, Crawley and Slough.
Labour strategists will, with some justification, claim that these results are being judged against the party’s high watermark in 2012 in the midst of George Osborne’s ‘omnishambles’ budget when they were last contested.
But nonetheless they are likely to lead to renewed pressure on the Labour leader particularly given the result in Scotland where Mr Corbyn had claimed his position on Trident and left wing policy platform would help the party rebuild support.
Responding to claims Labour is not doing as well as it should be, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC: "We are laying the foundations for a four-year programme."
"If you compare, from when Jeremy took over to now, we are on a clear path of improvement. That's exactly what our strategy is all about."
He said in Scotland the picture was "complex" and Labour was "at the early stages" of rebuilding support having been "wiped out" in 2015.
Meanwhile, shadow cabinet minister Andy Burnham revealed he was considering running for mayor of Greater Manchester, in an apparent sign that pessimism about Labour's prospects of regaining power at Westminster reaches into the party's highest echelons.
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