Prime Minister John Major's Conservative government suffered electoral humiliation today in the party's worst performance at local elections in 50 years.
Voters took revenge for a two-year recession by turning in droves to the opposition Labor and Liberal Democrat parties, which called the results an astonishing repudiation of Conservative policies.
In its first major test at the ballot box since a general election in April, 1992, the Conservatives lost 15 of the 16 councils they had controlled.
The Conservatives also lost in a previous parliamentary stronghold, Newbury in southern England, in a special election for a vacant House of Commons seat.
"It's a devastating blow to the Conservatives. It's absolutely clear that the government has lost the confidence of the British people," said Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.
In the local voting, Tories lost control in Kent for the first time this century and were hammered other traditional heartlands.
"It is obviously a disappointing result, but I think it should be kept in some sort of context," Conservative Chairman Norman Fowler said. "The recovery is taking place but the public don't see that yet."