LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party took an electoral bruising Friday, suffering widespread losses in local elections as voters punished the ruling party for biting austerity measures and a stalled economy.
By mid-afternoon, with almost all votes declared in the 180 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland that held votes, the Conservatives had lost about 375 local seats — including some in Cameron's own district.
While the results won't put Cameron's leadership in jeopardy, they are prompting grass roots Conservatives to urged him to ditch some of his more liberal policies, including the planned introduction of same-sex marriage.
In the country's most keenly watched contest, Cameron's Conservative colleague Boris Johnson appeared likely to clinch to a second four-year term as London's mayor and lead the British capital through the looming Summer Olympics.
That victory could be bittersweet for Cameron — offering relief from his party's national woes but cementing the outspoken city chief as a likely future leadership rival.
Cameron also suffered a blow to his legislative hopes, as six major cities — including Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield — voted down plans to have their own directly elected city mayors.
The leader had hoped that new city chiefs, and U.S.-style elected police commissioners, would help deliver power away from Westminster and into the hands of local communities.
Bristol, in southwestern England, was the only city to vote in favor of direct elections, with three contests still to be declared.
Like Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats — the junior partner in Britain's coalition government — suffered woes, losing about 240 councilors, which pushed them toward their lowest total since the party formed in 1988.
In Scotland, Alex Salmond's separatist Scottish National Party made local gains ahead of an expected 2014 referendum on independence. However, it did not appear likely the nationalists would win control of Glasgow's council.
Elsewhere, the United Kingdom Independence Party — which advocates a British withdrawal from the European Union — made advances while the far-right British National Party saw its vote wiped out, losing all six council seats it was contesting.
Opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband toasted his own party's revival after its ousting from national office in the 2010 election. Labour won control of 28 more local authorities and claimed at least 700 new council seats across the country.
"We are a party winning back people's trust," Miliband said. "People are hurting. People are suffering from this recession, people are suffering from a government that raises taxes for them and cuts taxes for millionaires."
Cameron insisted his poll battering was to be expected as his government carries out grueling austerity measures amid the European debt crisis. Britain is now in a double-dip recession.
"These are difficult times and there aren't easy answers," Cameron acknowledged.
Most Britons chose not to vote at all. Turnout was expected to be at 32 percent — the lowest level for an election since 2000.
Associated Press writer Bob Barr contributed to this story.