* Coalition parties fare badly in local council elections
* Conservative maverick Boris Johnson wins London
* Labour makes big gains, UKIP sees rising support
* Cameron comes under pressure from right-wingers
By Peter Griffiths and Tim Castle
LONDON, May 4 Boris Johnson dodged a humiliating
nationwide defeat for Prime Minister David Cameron by winning
London in local elections that saw voters angry at Britain's
economic woes flock to opposition Labour and a right-wing
anti-European fringe party.
Maverick mayor Johnson's silver-lining win in London was the
only good news for Cameron whom local media said had been given
a bloody nose by voters upset at spending cuts and Britain's
return to recession.
Even Johnson, who as one of the most popular politicians in
Cameron's own party is tipped as a possible future prime
minister, saw his majority slashed, claiming victory only after
a lengthy count that had put him head to head with his rival,
Labour candidate Ken Livingstone.
"I will continue to fight for a good deal for Londoners, a
good deal from the government that will help us deliver
prosperity for everybody in this city," Johnson, famous for his
ruffled fair hair, said after the vote count at London's City
Hall, a rounded glass building on the Thames.
Johnson failed to mention the wider Conservative defeat, but
his challenger, Livingstone, said that the victory could put
Johnson on course to one day lead the Conservative party.
With results declared in all 181 councils being contested
across the country, Labour had gained 823 new councillors while
the Conservatives had lost 405 and their Liberal Democrat
coalition partners were down by 336.
After preaching economic prudence, Cameron's coalition
government was damaged by a return to recession and weeks of
blunders that made ministers appear out of touch with voters
struggling with high unemployment, price rises and low wages.
Cameron apologised to Conservative candidates who lost their
jobs, blaming the defeat on the tough decisions he had been
forced to make to reduce Britain's debt mountain and mend the
$2.5 trillion economy.
"There aren't easy answers," said Cameron, whose party lost
seats to Labour in the rural constituency he represents in
'WAKE UP CALL'
Labour said the results were a wake-up call for the
government to soften its flagship deficit-cutting agenda.
"People are hurting, people are suffering from the
recession, people are suffering from a government that has
raised taxes for them and cut taxes for millionaires," said Ed
Miliband, leader of centre-left Labour.
For Miliband, who has been under constant fire since he took
over the Labour Party in 2010, the vote was a rare victory -
with the exception of London - though he was pelted with an egg
during a celebratory walk through Southampton.
The government's drubbing increased pressure on Cameron from
within his own party to shift his electoral strategy to the
right, a step Cameron's supporters say would be electoral
suicide and sour his relations with his coalition partners, the
centre-left Liberal Democrats.
"David Cameron is fighting to run a government with one hand
tied behind his back because we are attached to wishy-washy
Liberals and of course what Liberals are good for is opposition
but they are absolutely useless in government," Conservative
lawmaker Peter Bone told the BBC.
"ARROGANT POSH BOYS"
Derided as "arrogant posh boys who don't know the price of
milk" by a Conservative rebel, Cameron and his finance minister
George Osborne have struggled with a view that they are out of
touch. This was reinforced by a row about the so-called "pasty
tax", a sales-tax rise that pushed up the price of pasties, a
cheap and popular snack.
Foreign Secretary William Hague sought to play down the
scale of the Conservatives' defeat, saying it was "perfectly
common" for governments to suffer losses at mid-term local
elections. A national vote will be held in 2015.
UKIP, which stands for UK Independence Party, was contesting
only a fraction of the total seats up for grabs but where it did
field candidates, it averaged a record 14 percent of the vote.
This translated into just nine councillors because UKIP's
support is geographically scattered, which makes it hard for the
party to win any individual ward.
However, UKIP's surge was a clear threat to the
Conservatives, who need to increase their popular support before
the next national election.
"What they're scared of is that this trickle of support that
has come to UKIP could turn into a flood," UKIP leader Nigel
Farage told Reuters on Friday.
Philip Davies, a Conservative member of parliament, told
Reuters there was no doubt that UKIP was taking votes from the
Conservatives and that it was "a massive threat".
"They will undoubtedly stop us from winning seats that we
would otherwise win (in 2015), and given how difficult it is for
us to win an overall majority, every seat counts," he said.
At the last national parliamentary election, in 2010, the
Conservatives fell short of an overall majority even though
Labour were unpopular after 13 years in power. Cameron was
forced to form an uneasy coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
"A MACHINE THAT'S NOT WORKING"
Vociferous right-wingers within the Conservative Party have
always maintained that Cameron should have done more to appeal
to the party's traditional supporters by attacking the European
Union and talking tough on crime and immigration.
"So far he's tended to treat his party like a general, a
field-marshal. But he has to realise it's not his party and
listen to other voices in the party," influential online
Conservative activist Tim Montgomerie told Reuters.
"Until he shows he's an electoral success, he won't command
loyalty. The Conservative Party is an election-winning machine
and right now it's a machine that's not working."
Cameron's cherished policy of strengthening local democracy
by introducing elected mayors also suffered a setback. Voters in
eight cities voted against having a directly elected mayor, with
only Bristol voting in favour.
The picture was equally bleak for the Liberal Democrats,
whose support has collapsed since they went into government. The
local election results in England were the worst in their
In one area of Edinburgh, the Liberal Democrats won fewer
votes than a climate activist wearing a penguin suit calling
himself Professor Pongoo.
Labour, which had struggled to capitalise on the coalition's
problems, captured 38 percent of the national vote versus 31
percent for the Conservatives and 16 percent for the Lib Dems.
Voters turnout was low at just 32 percent.