LABOUR was today heading for an electoral bloodbath, as early analysis of local council polls put Conservatives as many as 20 points ahead nationally.

After about 50 results, David Cameron's party had a 44 per cent projected national share of the vote, against just 24 per cent for Labour - the lowest in recent history.

The margin was similar to the drubbing received by John Major in council elections in 1995, two years before he was ejected from Downing Street by Tony Blair.

Senior Tory aides described the results as ''a significant step foward'' which showed that Britain was ready for a change in Government.

They will heighten pressure on Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has seen his party perform worse than it did under Tony Blair in Labour's low point of 2004, when most of the seats contested yesterday were last up for grabs.

Yesterday's polls for English and Welsh councils, the London Assembly and London Mayor were the first large-scale opportunity for voters to give their verdict on Mr Brown through the ballot box since his move to 10 Downing Street last summer.

Results announced overnight will intensify speculation that Labour's Ken Livingstone is facing the fight of his life against Tory Boris Johnson in the race for the London mayoralty, due to declare this evening.

In a highly symbolic development, Conservatives won control of Bury in Greater Manchester to plant their flag within the Labour heartlands in the North.

The Tories also gained Nuneaton and Bedworth in Warwickshire from Labour and West Lindsey in Lincolshire from the Liberal Democrats, while taking Harlow in Essex, Elmbridge in Surrey, Maidstone in Kent and Wyre Forest in Worcestershire from no overall control.

Liberal Democrats were celebrating reasserting control over Hull, which they first won last year only to see it slip from their hands because of councillors defecting. Nick Clegg's party also took St Albans from no overall control.