THE Liberal Democrats were the biggest losers nationally as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg suffered blow after blow across the country.
The Lib Dems lost swathes of seats in former council strongholds in the North of England to Labour, which gained overall control of eight councils, including Sheffield, Hull, Bolton, Stoke and Telford.
Some 12 Lib Dem wards fell to Labour in Liverpool, 10 each in Manchester and Hull and nine in Sheffield - Mr Clegg’s hometown.
But the 204 seats gained by Labour by 5am did not appear to be enough for leader Ed Miliband to claim a major breakthrough in his drive to steer the party back into power nationally.
The election has sparked a bitter war of words between the coalition partners, with former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of a “breach of faith” by allowing the largely Conservative-funded No campaign to turn their fire on Mr Clegg in the referendum on electoral reform, where a result is due later today.
“You cannot fund a deeply vicious campaign to destroy the personality of your partner, who has been unmoved in his brave support of the coalition, without there being consequences,” said Lord Ashdown in an interview before any votes were counted.
There were no calls from prominent Lib Dems for their leader to go or to quit the coalition, but a number of senior figures pressed for the party to take a more independent stance within the Government.
Deputy leader Simon Hughes said Lib Dem “trust” in the Tories had been knocked by their conduct of the referendum campaign and indicated the party would demand concessions on key issues like NHS reform, where Conservative ministers have strayed beyond the terms of last year’s coalition agreement.
He said: “From now on, we are very clear that we will keep to what the coalition has agreed in the Coalition Agreement.
“Other stuff will not be allowed in as policy unless our party has agreed to it.”