LABOUR has blamed the pandemic for their key election losses - as Boris Johnson is set to steal a hat-trick of Tory wins from the opposition.
The shadow home secretary said today Covid-19 thwarted Sir Keir Starmer from being able to “set out his vision” for the country.
Nick Thomas-Symonds told Times Radio: “Keir has been in a situation over the past year where, in the national interest by the way, he has been providing that constructive opposition to the pandemic. And that was absolutely right.
“What that has also meant is that it’s restricted the opportunities for Keir to set out his vision.”
It comes after Tory Jill Mortimer romped home in Hartlepool, winning it for the first time in more than 50 years with a massive 6,940 majority.
A clearly rattled Sir Keir said he would take “full responsibility” for the “bitterly disappointing” results for Labour.
Read our Local Elections 2021 live blog below for up to the minute updates...
LABOUR HOLD LIVERPOOL MAYORALTY
Labour's Steve Rotheram has been emphatically re-elected as the city's metro mayor on the first round of voting.
The former MP took 58.2 per cent of the vote, winning 198,736 ballots.
He said: "It's a massive vote of confidence in the power of devolution and the work I've done so far - now the government has to back further devo."
LABOUR HOLD NORTH TYNESIDE MAYORALTY
Labour have won the North Tyneside mayoralty, with the party's Norma Redfearn re-elected for a third time.
The popular incumbent stormed to victory with 33,119 votes, miles ahead of her Tory rival on 19,366.
Unlike traditional Labour strongholds such as Hartlepool and Tees Valley - where the Tories cleaned up - this result was never really in doubt.
SNP'S PATH TO MAJORITY IS "VERY, VERY NARROW"
Chris Musson, Scottish Political Editor:
Two marginal seats could hold the key to the SNP winning an overall majority today.
Conservative-held Aberdeenshire West and Galloway & West Dumfries are both due to declare later.
If the SNP win one - or both - it's possible they will grab the elusive 65 MSPs needed for a Holyrood majority.
Speaking last night after the SNP missed out on their top target - Labour-held Dumbarton - , elections expert Professor Sir John Curtice said there was "still a pathway" to an overall SNP majority but said: "It's a very, very narrow one.
DOES NICOLA STURGEON HAVE A MANDATE FOR INDYREF2?
Even if Nicola Sturgeon fails to clinch her prized majority, the SNP will still easily be the largest party in Holyrood by the end of the weekend.
Senior Nats are already starting to agitate for a second referendum, pointing to a likely "pro-independence" majority with the Greens.
Speaking on Sky News just now, SNP MSP Neil Gray said: "There is going to be an overwhelming mandate for a second referendum when we see the conclusion of these results today and tomorrow.
"I think the pressure on Boris Johnson to deliver that second referendum will be overwhelming."
But Scottish Tory MSP Annie Wells disagreed, pointing out that Sturgeon previously told unionists who like her personally to vote SNP.
She said: "That clearly shows that not every vote for the SNP is about independence."
MORE RED BRICKS FALLING...
Rotherham has seen a complete change of heart with the previously Labour-strong councillors turning a shade of blue.
Until yesterday there were no Conservative councillors, but today there are 15, with the count still going.
Labour has 18 councillors from the 25 wards, so it doesn't appear likely the Tories could get control of the council.
But it's a clear indication things are changing in the once Northern Labour strongholds.
SCOTLAND'S KNIFE EDGE COUNT CONTINUES...
In the first result to declared in the Scottish Parliament election on Saturday the SNP held Aberdeenshire East.
Gillian Martin retained her seat with 18,307 votes, with Conservative candidate Stewart Whyte taking second place on 16,418 votes.
The Liberal Democrats won 3,396 votes and Labour 2,900. Turnout was 64.25 per cent.
LABOUR TO STAY IN WALES
Labour has matched its best-ever Senedd election result, with half of the 30 Welsh Parliament seats.
With 52 of the 60 seats declared, Labour is on 30 with the Conservatives on 12, Plaid Cymru nine and the Liberal Democrats one.
Leader Mark Drakeford, who kept the majority in his seat, made a vow to form a "stable and progressive" government.
TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Two results had to be declared by using a coin toss and drawing lots out of a box when candidates tied.
One council ward in Barnsely, South Yorkshire, saw a tense coin toss.
And the Tories too Northumberland County Council by using a box to draw lots, when two candidates tied.
STURGEON V JOHNSON
Counting continues in the Scottish parliamentary contest, with the SNP leader's hopes of achieving a majority on a knife edge.
It is almost certain the SNP will win its fourth term in power at Holyrood, and Nicola Sturgeon said "when the time is right" she will offer Scots "the choice of a better future" in a second independence referendum.
But Boris Johnson insists he would not support an "irresponsible" referendum.
Achieving the 65 seats needed for an outright victory could make it harder for Mr Johnson to refuse, although if the SNP falls short of that target it could still achieve a majority in Holyrood for a referendum with the support of the Greens.
Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would introduce the legislation for a referendum "and if Boris Johnson wants to stop that he would have to go to court".
SCOTTISH COUNT RESTARTS
Counting has started again in the Scottish Parliament election.
With 47 constituency results declared on Friday, the SNP had 38 seats, Liberal
Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two.
Some constituencies are still to be counted today, when the crucial regional list results will also be declared.
Harlow MP Robert Halfon said: "There has been lots of talk about a vaccine bounce, but it is not just stick a needle in someone's arm and they will vote Tory – it's much more than that.
"Labour has become very metropolitan and its whole campaign has just been negative mudslinging. We have been focusing on people's priorities like the NHS, skills, keeping fuel duty down and recruiting more police.
"We are the true workers' party now. And the Boris brand works – he is liked by people in a way that Labour do not understand."
SMILE WHEN YOU'RE WINNING...
The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg wrote today: "This isn't a general election, where everything can change, where voters' choices can shift the course of the whole UK in a moment of decision.
"But the scale of these votes means our politicians are being given much more than a flavour of the public's opinions right now.
"It shouldn't be forgotten that many contests are yet to conclude - hand sanitiser, screens and social distancing have slowed the pace.
"In Westminster, Boris Johnson has been through a torrid few weeks. But much of the country has just shown again that he is a magnet for millions of voters."
DECADE AS PM?
Boris Johnson is "preparing for 10 years as Prime Minister" after a stonking election triumph in Labour's former heartlands.
After a brutal year of pandemic ups and downs, the Prime Minister is riding high with an earthquake 7,000 majority win in Hartlepool - which had been Labour-held since 1974.
The Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer gained 15,529 votes - more than half the total cast - with Labour's Paul Williams trailing on 8,589.
It was the biggest by-election win by a party in government since the Second World War.
And cabinet ministers believe there has been a permanent shift in the nation’s political identity and claimed Johnson could outlast Margaret Thatcher's 11 years in Downing Street, The Times reports.
KHAN ON COURSE
Sadiq Khan is on track to be re-elected as London Mayor - despite the scare last night Shaun Bailey was catching up to him.
But he is almost 25,000 votes ahead over the Tory candidate.
Hopefuls have been told the aim is for an 8.30pm declaration, but a decision will be made at 4pm if it needs to roll over to Sunday.
On the London Assembly fight, none have so far changed party control.
Tories held three and Labour clung onto four, with seven more to be declared today.
BREXIT AND VACCINES FOR THE WIN
Environment Secretary George Eustice said Brexit and the success of the vaccine rollout had helped the Conservatives to win votes off Labour at the Super Thursday elections.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today: "When it comes to the really big breakthrough in the Hartlepool by-election and the election of Ben Houchen as well (as Tees Valley Mayor), I think really it is a case of parts of this country feel they have elected Labour for a very long time, they feel taken for granted.
"I think the Brexit decision and the wrangling over that in recent years has focused minds in that they have questioned whether the Labour Party was really in touch with their priorities.
"And of course the rollout of the vaccine has been successful and I think people feel positive and that they can see a way out of this terrible pandemic we have been enduring."
Put to him that "crises favour incumbents", Mr Eustice replied: "I'm not sure that is the way I would view it."
BORIS ON COURSE FOR HAT-TRICK?
After winning Hartlepool's by-election and Tees Valley's mayoral election, the Tories look set to clinch the West Midlands.
This would be their third win in traditionally controlled Labour territories.
Tory council wins included bellwether authorities Harlow in Essex, Cornwall, Dudley, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Nottinghamshire and Northumberland.
The Conservatives are advancing in the very areas Sir Keir Starmer would need if he has any hope of reaching No10.
SNP MAJORITY UNCLEAR...
Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Breakfast: "It's very clear that the Scottish National Party is going to be the largest party at the Scottish Parliament by a very significant margin.
"We don't know whether we will have a majority yet, that will become clearer in the course of today I would imagine, and that's an astonishing achievement for us given the fact that we are now about to embark on our fourth consecutive term in government after 14 years and three terms of leading the people of Scotland.
"I think we've had a tremendous success in the election yesterday, we will see what comes in the course of today but the signals are very good indeed and obviously we will then turn our minds to the arrangements post election."
BLAME IT ON COVID?
Labour has blamed the pandemic in part for their key election losses.
The shadow home secretary said today it thwarted Sir Kier Starmer from being able to "set out his vision" for the country.
Nick Thomas-Symonds told Times Radio: "Keir has been in a situation over the past year where, in the national interest by the way, he has been providing that constructive opposition to the pandemic. And that was absolutely right.
"At a point of national crisis, yes of course you criticise the Government when it was appropriate to do so but it was also appropriate to do things like support the Government on the furlough scheme or supporting the Government on its public health messaging and not, for party political reasons, trying to create confusion around that.
"What that has also meant is that it's restricted the opportunities for Keir to set out his vision."