Rishi Sunak has insisted he will push on with his agenda despite the Tories suffering major losses in his first electoral test as Prime Minister.
With the reporting of local election results under way on Friday, Labour claimed its victories so far suggest Sir Keir Starmer will be able enter in No 10 after a general election.
The Liberal Democrats also made gains as the Tories lost control of a series of councils across England.
Labour took Medway off the Tories and will run the Kent council for the first time since 1998.
Government minister and local MP Johnny Mercer said Labour gaining control of Plymouth, where the Tories had run a minority administration, was “terrible”, before the opposition seized another battleground with Stoke-on-Trent.
In Hertsmere, where Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden is MP, the Tories lost control of the council, with 13 councillors voted out while Labour gained seven and the Lib Dems six.
Tamworth, Brentford, North West Leicestershire and East Lindsey fell from Tory administrations to no overall control.
Mr Sunak insisted it was “hard to draw firm conclusions” from the initial results after speaking to staff at Conservative Campaign Headquarters in central London on Friday morning.
He told broadcasters he was “not detecting any massive groundswell of movement towards the Labour Party or excitement for its agenda” despite the Opposition gains.
“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,” he added.
“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.”
He 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.”
The Prime Minister also claimed the Tories were “making progress in key electoral battlegrounds like Peterborough, Bassetlaw, Sandwell”.
The inroads for the Tories were debatable. In Sandwell, they gained two of 24 seats, while Labour gained four and held 18 more.
Elsewhere, the Conservatives lost control of South Kesteven in Lincolnshire, where the party had 36 of the 56 seats before polling day.
West Lindsey remained under no overall control but the Lib Dems replaced the Tories as the largest party.
In Boston, the Tories lost 10 councillors in the Lincolnshire town they had run as a minority, with independents now taking the majority of seats.
Labour replaced the Tories as the largest party in Hartlepool and Worcester.
On the eve of the coronation, the Tories lost control in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, with the Lib Dems claiming victory.
A Lib Dem spokesman said it is a “massive blow to Rishi Sunak” and “Conservative MPs across the blue wall will be looking over their shoulder at the Lib Dems this morning”.
Tory insiders said they had always expected a “tough night for the party”, but with the prospect of a general election in 2024 there will be concerns that they have suffered losses in the North, South and Midlands.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the party had experienced a “bit of a blip” after the turmoil in No 10 which saw Boris Johnson and Liz Truss ousted before Mr Sunak took office.
He attempted to present the losses as mid-term blues for the Tories, telling Sky News: “The British people are a very sensible group of folk and they understand what’s important.
“Occasionally they like to give political parties a bit of a reminder of who the politicians serve. Certainly when you get into being mid-term in a government you get quite a bit of that.”
Veterans minister Mr Mercer told the BBC the Plymouth result was due to local factors and insisted the Prime Minister was “the sort of strong leader this country needs at this time”.
The council’s decision to fell dozens of trees in the city centre contributed to the loss of Tory support.
Mr Mercer said: “I think, locally, it has been very difficult. The Conservative group here has been through a very difficult time. We have seen that reflected on the doors, in the campaign and we have seen that reflected in the results tonight but, you know, we take it on the chin.”
Stoke-on-Trent North’s Tory MP Jonathan Gullis told Sky News that councillors had “suffered because, at the end of 2022, the Conservative Party as a brand was certainly damaged”.
In Tamworth – the seat of scandal-hit former Tory whip Chris Pincher – Labour made seven gains, pushing it from Conservative into no overall control.
But Labour’s attempts to regain Hull from the Lib Dems failed, with Sir Ed Davey’s party tightening its grip on the authority.