“The best thing for Cameron would be to have Boris locked into the London mayoralty for the next four years and out of the way,” said Patrick Dunleavy, a political science professor at the London School of Economics.
Cameron also suffered a blow to his legislative hopes, as nine cities — including Manchester, Birmingham and Newscastle-upon-Tyne — 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 Parliament and into the hands of local communities.
Bristol, in southwestern England, was the only city to vote in favor of electing a new mayor.
Like Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats — the junior partner in Britain’s coalition government — suffered a collapse, losing 336 councilors. That pushed their total number of local councilors below 3,000 for the first time since the party formed in 1988.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband toasted his own party’s revival after its ousting from national office in the 2010 national election. It won control of 32 more local authorities and claimed 823 new council seats.
“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 at the midpoint before a 2015 national election, and with his government carrying out grueling economic repairs following the global economic crisis.
“These are difficult times and there aren’t easy answers,” Cameron acknowledged.
Elsewhere, the United Kingdom Independence Party — which advocates a British withdrawal from the European Union — made advances. The far-right British National Party saw its vote wiped out, losing all six council seats it held in the areas contesting elections.
In Scotland, Alex Salmond’s separatist Scottish National Party made local gains before an expected 2014 referendum on independence but win control of Glasgow’s council, a key target.
Associated Press writer Bob Barr contributed to this story.