LONDON -- Britain's Conservative Party endured a drubbing from voters Friday in local elections that delivered a warning to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government, and a boost to the opposition, as a national election approaches.
The left-of-center main opposition Labour Party made gains that raised its hopes of winning a nationwide parliamentary vote that is due by the end of 2024. Labour leader Keir Starmer said "we are on course for a Labour majority at the next general election."
The Conservatives acknowledged it had been a "disappointing" election for the party.
With almost all the results from Thursday's voting in, the Conservatives had lost more than 1,000 seats in elections for more than 8,000 seats on 230 local councils across England.
The right-of-center party lost control of more than 40 councils, including Medway in southeast England and the naval city of Plymouth in the southwest.
Labour gained more than 500 seats and won control of several new councils, while the centrist Liberal Democrats also made gains and grabbed control from the Conservatives in Windsor, an affluent town west of London that is the location of royal residence Windsor Castle. There were also surprise wins for the environmentalist Greens.
The Conservatives lost ground in working-class northern areas that they previously won from Labour -- largely by championing Britain's exit from the European Union -- and in more affluent southern districts where anti-Brexit voters have turned to the Lib Dems or Labour.
Sunak said Friday "it's always disappointing to lose hard-working Conservative councilors." But he insisted he was "not detecting any massive groundswell of movement towards the Labour Party or excitement for its agenda."
The Conservatives have been in power nationally since 2010.
Labour said the results showed many voters are eager for change. But University of Strathclyde polling expert John Curtice said that Labour so far didn't have the scale of lead achieved before its landslide 1997 election victory under Tony Blair, the peak of the party's popularity.
"Labour are going to have their biggest lead over the Conservatives -- in terms of votes -- than at any point since 2010, but it's going to be as much to do with the Conservatives being down as much as it is Labour being up," he said.
The results aren't a complete snapshot of the U.K. There were no elections in London, Scotland or Wales, while Northern Ireland will vote May 18.
The election was the first to be held since the government changed the law to require voters to show photo identification at all U.K. polling stations.
After polls closed Thursday night, elections watchdog the Electoral Commission said "overall, the elections were well-run," but "some people were regrettably unable to vote today as a result" of the new rules.