Sources at Number 10 were briefing that the Tories expected to lose up to 800 seats in local authorities up and down the land after six weeks of grim headlines in the aftermath of George Osborne’s deeply unpopular Budget on March 21.
Labour was more cautious, predicting about 400 gains in council seats that were last up for grabs in 2008. At that time the party was at its lowest ebb, with the economy collapsing and Gordon Brown under severe pressure as his premiership floundered.
This time, Labour are enjoying their largest poll lead over the Tories in several years, while the Liberal Democrats continue to suffer the political fallout of being tied to their coalition partners.
Counting was under way last night in about two-thirds of the 181 councils holding elections, with the results due in the early hours of this morning.
Bradford was one of those holding an overnight count, as George Galloway’s Respect party sought to unseat Labour council leader Ian Greenwood in his own ward and win sufficient seats to hold the balance of power in any future coalition there.
Bradford was also one of 10 cities across the country holding referendums on whether to introduce directly-elected mayors to take control of the councils from November.
Many of the largest authorities will only begin their counts today, however, with results not due in cities such as Leeds, Sheffield, and London until later this evening.
In the capital, Boris Johnson appeared on course to win a second term as Mayor of London, after an eve-of-election poll put him six points clear of his Labour rival Ken Livingstone.
In Scotland, all eyes were on Glasgow, where the Scottish National Party was looking to wrest control of a city council which Labour has held for more than 30 years.
But across the country yesterday there were fears that poor weather and voter disenchantment had led to disappointingly low turnout in many of the polls.