Liberal Democrat strongholds across the north fell as voters expressed anger with cuts imposed by town halls at the local elections on Thursday. Voters heaped the blame for reduced services and rising charges on the coalition government, which slashed grants to big northern cities this year.
Sheffield, Nick Clegg’s home city which the party had governed with a minority, passed to Labour.
In Hull, council leader Carl Minns lost his seat as Labour took control.
The party also lost Bolton and Oldham to Labour while Stockport became hung after it lost four seats.
Labour also strengthened its lead in Liverpool, which it won last year, gaining 11 seats, and in Manchester. The Lib Dems lost all 10 seats they contested in the city.
Simon Ashley, group leader, who was unseated, said: “This was a terrible night for the Lib Dems in Manchester and seemingly in many big northern cities. Many good Lib Dem councillors have lost their seats because we have been punished for being in national government.”
Paul Scriven, outgoing council leader in Sheffield, said it was a “short-term setback”.
“We came into this [the coalition government] not for short-term party gain but to sort out the mess Labour left.
“Maybe in three or four years’ time people will look back and say ‘Maybe we were a little harsh on the Liberal Democrats’.”
Turnout was high in the city, especially in wards with student populations, using their first opportunity to punish the Lib Dems for reversing a pledge not to raise tuition fees.
Labour has 49 councillors out of a total of 84, taking nine seats from the Liberal Democrats who have 32. The Lib Dems lost overall control last year.
Two Green councillors and one independent held on to their seats.
A party spokesman conceded that results across the north were worse than expected.
However, he pointed out that in most councils it was a straight fight between an incumbent Lib Dem administration with just a narrow majority over Labour.
“Where we have taken a kicking we were the party of government. There was no Tory to kick.”
He added that northern voters believed public sector spending cuts had hit the region disproportionately. “That is the perception on the doorstep. Is it accurate? We don’t think so.”
He said the vote in Nick Clegg’s constituency of Hallam had held up, with Lib Dems gaining 14,000 across its wards and Labour around 10,000.
However, the result will increase pressure on the Lib Dem leader. Warren Bradley, former leader of Liverpool council, recently called on him to quit.
Irene Davidson, leader of the Lib Dems in Rochdale, where several councillors have left the party in the past 12 months, was reported by the BBC as calling for him to “think about his position”.
Get alerts on UK local elections when a new story is published