The UK's Labour party was taking a bruising today as results came in from elections in Scotland, Wales and England – but Tony Blair’s party appeared to have escaped the bloodbath some were predicting.
In Scotland, parliamentary elections hung on a knife-edge, with the Scottish National Party taking seats but still far from certain of replacing Labour as the largest single party.
SNP leader Alex Salmond came from third place to become Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Gordon, while Labour’s leader north of the border Jack McConnell held on to Motherwell and Wishaw.
Labour was on the way to remaining the largest party in the Welsh Assembly but looked unlikely to claim overall control, dropping five seats while Conservatives and Plaid Cymru made gains.
In England, the Tories increased their tally of councils by 12 and claimed the scene had been set for general election victory as they won an estimated 41% of the national vote.
The night was marked by delay and confusion in some areas thanks to problems with new electronic vote-counting technology and an unprecedented number of spoiled ballot papers.
In Scotland, many voters appear to have misunderstood new-style ballot papers, and there are fears that the number spoilt may top 100,000 nationally.
David Cameron’s Tories won control of England’s largest council, Birmingham, for the first time in almost a quarter of a century and claimed they were “back in business in the north” after taking Chester and South Ribble.
But Labour said the much-vaunted “Cameron effect” had failed to deliver the predicted surge in support and insisted the Tories had not made the sort of breakthrough they would need to win the next general election.
Labour’s share of the vote was up one point from last year to 27%, according to BBC estimates, while the Liberal Democrats were down a point to 26%.