Voters blamed their councils rather than the government for the level of council tax, underfunding of social services and worries about law and order. This led to local triumphs and disasters for all parties, but the outcome must be most worrying for Iain Duncan-Smith.
The Tories were unable to break out beyond their core vote. Although the party came out ahead of Labour, with an estimated 34% of the national vote, it did no better than in the 1998 and 1999 local elections - and way behind William Hague's achievement in the 1999 European and 2000 local polls.
Liberal Democrats maintained their record of polling a quarter of local votes, but were not immune from voter hostility, losing control in Harrogate, Oldham and Sheffield.
However, Bexley, which the Tories had effectively controlled, was lost to Labour and there was not a single Conservative elected in Haringey, Islington, Newham and Tower Hamlets.
Outside London, places such as Hyndburn and Rossendale in Lancashire, where the Tories gained control after huge swings in 2000, were retaken by Labour. With the loss of Calderdale, Solihull is the only metropolitan borough in Tory hands.
Although turnout was up overall, it was down in many areas. Polls that attracted more than 40% of electors tended to be conducted entirely by post.