is on course to form a majority government if the results of the local elections in England are replicated at the general election.

Professor Sir John Curtice has said Labour had enjoyed “just enough” of a swing in the council vote to replace the Conservatives in Downing Street.

The renowned polling expert the projected national share of the vote based on the local results so far would be for Labour to win 35 per cent of the vote, the Tories 26% and Liberal Democrat 20%.

That was the same for Labour last year, but the Tories had sunk from 30%.

However Prof Sir John said the LibDems often fared less well in national elections compared to local ones, and yesterday’s vote did not include Scotland and hence figures for the SNP.

A general election is expected in the autumn of 2024.

With nearly half of the 230 councils having declared, the Conservatives had lost 22 local authorities and more than 300 councillors.

Labour seized councils in Tory MPs’ seats that would be key at a general election, including in Swindon, Medway and East Staffordshire.

With more than 8,000 seats up for grabs, and 70% of English voters able to cast a ballot, the election is the biggest test of public opinion this side of the general election, and Rishi Sunak's first electoral battle as Prime Minister.

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said the election showed the SNP would be in prime position to “pull the strings” of the government in a hung parliament. 

He said: “It's increasingly clear that the SNP can hold the balance of power after the next general election - putting Scotland in prime position to pull the strings of a minority UK government.

"Voting SNP is the best way to beat the Tories in Scotland - and every vote for the SNP will be crucial to ensure Scotland wields real power and influence.

"With the pro-Brexit Labour Party lurching to the right, and becoming indistinguishable from the Tories, the SNP will make certain that real change happens.

"The SNP would ensure the power to determine Scotland’s future is transferred to Edinburgh, that the cost of living crisis becomes the main priority of Westminster and that relations with Europe are rebuilt and renewed.”

Labour has already said it would refuse to grant Holyrood the power for Indyref2 even if it was a minority administration, daring the SNP to vote it down and let the Tories back in.

If the arithmetic allowed, a minority Labour government could also be in a coalition with the LIbDems, shutting the SNP out.

Because Boris Johnson won a working majority of 80 in 2019, Labour need a landslide similar to Tony Blair’s in 1997 to win power next year.

Despite Labour’s projected lead falling just shy of the 10% under Mr Blair, Sir Keir said: “Make no mistake, we are on course for a Labour majority at the next general election.” 

Mr Sunak admitted the results were “disappointing” but insisted he was “not detecting any massive groundswell of movement towards the Labour Party or excitement for its agenda”.

The LibDem also made gains, particularly at the expense of the Tories. 

A day of Labour celebration started with Sir Keir visiting Medway in Kent, which hs party wil now run for first time since 1998.

The losing Conservative council leader told No 10 to “get their act together” on several fronts.

Sir Keir welcomed “fantastic results across the country” in “places we need to win”, citing victories in Plymouth, Stoke and Middlesbrough, where his party won the mayoralty.

Sir Keir said: “We’ve changed our party. We’ve won the trust, the confidence of voters, and now we can go on to change our country. Change is possible. A better Britain is possible.”

In central London, Mr Sunak thanked Tory staff for their efforts, and said the results were always going to be tough.

However he said the state of play has improved since he took over six months ago after the leaderships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

He told broadcasters it was “hard to draw firm conclusions” from the initial results.

The PM said: “It’s always disappointing to lose hardworking Conservative councillors, they’re friends, they’re colleagues and I’m so grateful to them for everything they’ve done.

“But in terms of the results, it’s still early. We’ve just had a quarter of the results in, but what I am going to carry on doing is delivering on the people’s priorities.”

Mr Sunak cited his priorities as halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting lists and “stopping the boats”, adding: “That’s what people want us to do. That’s what I’m going to keep hard at doing.”

Defeated Tory council leaders blamed national factors for losses, including the cost of living crisis, NHS backlogs and the economic chaos under Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng. 

Both Swindon in Wiltshire and Erewash Council in Derbyshire had been controlled by the Tories for 20 years until losses on Thursday.

North Swindon Tory MP Justin Tomlinson said his party had to take the “dreadful” results as a “wake-up call”.

The LibDems won Windsor & Maidenhead, where form PM Theresa MAy is the MP, from the Tories and hope to have Stratford-on-Avon.

With full results from 117 of the 230 councils where elections were held:

– The Tories have lost 22 councils and suffered a net loss of 307 councillors.

– Labour has gained control of eight councils and added 241 councillors.

– The Liberal Democrats have gained four council and 128 councillors.

– The Green Party has gained 54 councillors.

LibDem leader Sir Ed Davey, whose party held off Labour attempts to regain Hull, said it has been a “groundbreaking night” for his party.

“We are exceeding all expectations. We have delivered a hammer blow to the Conservative Party in the blue wall ahead of next year’s general election,” he said.