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Sign of Things to Come? UK Voters Punish Incumbents

Voters in the United Kingdom punished the coalition government’s two political parties at local elections across the country on Thursday in what will be seen by many as a rejection of the government’s austerity.

David Cameron
CNBC
David Cameron

However, in the country's most high-profile race, for mayor of London, incumbent Boris Johnson dodged the humiliating nationwide defeat for Prime Minister David Cameron by winning.

A little under two years since the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives formed a coalition government with the express aim of tackling Britain’s spiraling debt, voters have overwhelmingly voted for their opposition Labour rivals.

The results in Europe's third-biggest economy come just two days before France and Greece are to hold national elections, with markets watching both to see whether incumbent governments that have implemented austerity measures will be able to hold onto power.

With results declared in all 181 councils being contested across the country, Labour had gained 823 new councillors while the Conservatives had lost 405 and their Liberal Democrat coalition partners were down by 336.

Labour regained control of councils including Reading council, Harlow council and Southampton City council—all of which they lost in 2008. The city of Birmingham voted overwhelmingly for Labour for the first time in eight years, with the party picking up 20 seats on the council in the elections. They took control of key battle grounds such as Plymouth and Exeter City councils and did better than expected in local elections in Wales.

The projected national share of the vote for Labour is 39 percent while the Conservative party are in second with 31 percent. One crumb of comfort for the coalition government’s junior partners, the Liberal Democrats, will be the fact that their share of the vote held steady at 16 percent. However, for the first time in their history, the party now has fewer than 3,000 councillors nationwide.

Maverick mayor Johnson's silver-lining win in London was the only good news for Cameron whom local media said had been given a bloody nose by voters upset at spending cuts and Britain's return to recession.

Even Johnson, who as one of the most popular politicians in Cameron's own party is tipped as a possible future prime minister, saw his majority slashed, claiming victory only after a lengthyg cuts and Britain's return to recessionWere a general election to be held today, Labour would comfortably win with a majority of 82 seats in the national parliament. The results are also a spectacular turnaround in Labour’s fortunes. The results show an increase in the party’s share of the vote of around 15 percent, while the share of the Conservative vote has fallen 13 percent from 2008.

The Conservative party tried to shrug off the election results as typical of a mid-term government.

The result was not entirely unexpected however. One Conservative commentator, Tim Montgomorie, editor of Conservativehome.com, the blog for Conservative grass root activists, told CNBC.com on Tuesday he would not be surprised to wake up on Friday morning to find Labour had won 1,000 seats.

The picture was equally bleak for the Liberal Democrats, whose support has collapsed since they went into government. The local election results in England were the worst in their history.

In one area of Edinburgh, the Liberal Democrats won fewer votes than a climate activist wearing a penguin suit calling himself Professor Pongoo.