Ukip's gain hurting all three major parties as early results pour in

Counting is still underway across the country. Photo: PA

With more than half the councils expected tonight now declared (though nothing yet from London), a clear pattern is emerging.

Ukip has done particularly well in those areas of England around the east coast and on both sides of the Thames estuary where it served notice of its presence at last year's local elections.

Read: Ukip swing deprives Tories of Peterborough

Ukip has also picked up seats right across the country, often frustrating Labour hopes in urban areas like Walsall and pegging them back in Birmingham, Dudley and Hartlepool.

The Conservatives have lost seats and councils as expected, but are being less damaged by Labour than they might have feared - holding on to control in Swindon and Tamworth, for example - both key Labour parliamentary targets.

Labour has quite simply failed to register the surge of support that opposition parties often achieve.

That will be especially worrying given that most of the seats up tonight were last contested on general election day 2010 when the party had its second worst performance of modern times.

For the Lib Dems this is the fourth year of local election hurt since they joined the Conservatives in coalition.

Yet the party will point out with some justification that in a handful of the areas where they are entrenched their vote can still hold up: in Eastleigh and the Yardley area of Birmingham for example. But such places are the exception.