LONDON (AP) — Britain's governing Conservatives took a bruising Friday in local elections as voters punished them for biting austerity measures and a stalled economy, while the results of a much-closer-than-anticipated London mayoral race were delayed.
Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives suffered heavy losses in the 181 local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland that held votes, losing about 400 local seats — including some in the district that Cameron represents in Parliament.
While the results won't put Cameron's leadership in jeopardy, they prompted grassroots Conservatives to urge him to ditch some of his more liberal policies, including the planned introduction of same-sex marriage.
All eyes, however, were on London's mayoral election which Boris Johnson, Cameron's Conservative colleague, had been expected to sweep.
But hours after results were due — and with partial counts showing Johnson narrowly ahead in the vote count — election officials acknowledged a mix-up had taken place in one of the 14 London constituencies.
Election officials said two batches of ballot papers in Brent & Harrow had been sent to storage without being manually entered as they were required and that now those two batches are being reprocessed.
If Johnson clinches a second four-year term as London's mayor as expected, he will lead the British capital through the upcoming 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 sustained 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. Cameron had hoped that new mayors and U.S.-style elected police commissioners would give power from the central government to local communities.
Bristol, in southwestern England, was the only city to vote in favor of direct elections.
Like Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats — the junior partner in Britain's coalition government — suffered woes, losing 336 councilors. That pushed their total number of local councilors below 3,000 for the first time since the party formed in 1988.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband toasted his opposition party's revival after it was ousted from national office in the 2010 election. Labour won control of 32 more local authorities and claimed 823 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.
In Scotland, Alex Salmond's separatist Scottish National Party made local gains before an expected 2014 referendum on independence but they did not win control of Glasgow's council, a key target.
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.
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 Robert Barr contributed to this report.