Gordon Brown is mounting a final fight-back after Labour crashed to its worst electoral drubbing for a generation at the hands of the Tories and criticism intensified of his record as Prime Minister.
Mr Brown struck a new note of contrition as he confessed in a series of interviews to making a string of mistakes in his first 10 months in Downing Street. He will attempt to regain the political initiative during the next few weeks by demonstrating that his administration is not out of touch with ordinary voters' concerns.
Labour strategists are alarmed by the 20-point lead the Tories achieved over Labour in last week's town hall elections. If repeated in a general election, it would be enough to put David Cameron in power with a majority of more than 100.
Despite growing dissent on the Labour back benches, Mr Brown's advisers are confident his position is safe after a succession of cabinet ministers took to the airwaves to swear their loyalty to him. Mr Brown is preparing a package of initiatives aimed at the hard-pressed former Labour voters who either stayed at home last week or defected to the Tories.
The Government looks certain to scrap the 2p increase in fuel duty planned for September following the recent rapid increases in petrol prices. Plans to allow councils to tax many households on their rubbish could also be abandoned.
Mr Brown will announce fresh help for first-time buyers trying to get a foot on the property ladder; back a review of prices charged by the major supermarket chains; and boost aid for small businesses.
Stung by the backlash over the abolition of the 10p income tax rate, ministers will try to revive Labour's standing by insisting they understand the plight of families and that the party stands for fairness and equality. Fresh proposals for tackling poverty are expected in a package of proposals later this month.
Following a warning by Frank Field, the former social security minister, that he is ready to revive a backbench rebellion against the abolition of the 10p tax rate, ministers will also rush out details of plans to ease the effect on people who lose out from the change.
They will attempt to label Mr Cameron as a "slick salesman" who has not fundamentally changed the Tories and ducks difficult decisions. A limited ministerial reshuffle is also possible, although Mr Brown said yesterday it was not his "first priority".
The Prime Minister said he took full personal responsibility for Labour's disastrous local election results, but insisted the party could recover in time for the general election. He promised to leave the Westminster bubble to go around the country "far more often" to meet voters, stressing that he could understand their situation because of his unprivileged background.
He said: "I feel the hurt they feel: petrol prices going up; food prices have gone up; they are worried about utility bills; they are worried about their standard of living; there is an uncertainty about the economy."
He told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show that he had blundered over the 10p tax rate and by letting speculation about an early general election run on too long last year, adding: "Perhaps I spent too little time thinking about how we can get our arguments across to the public."
But he insisted on his fitness for the top job as he dismissed speculation either of a leadership challenge or that he could be persuaded to stand down. "The key issue is how can we come through the current economic challenges that face the country," he said. "I believe I'm the best person to take the country – with Alistair Darling, our Chancellor – through these challenges."
Mr Brown admitted he could now be seen as the "underdog", but he insisted: "John McCain was written off in America last summer and now he is the Republican candidate.
"Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have gone from lows to highs ... if you look round the world every government is under pressure – every government – because of what is happening to the world economy."
He added: "The real Gordon Brown is someone who is standing up at all times for hard-working families in this country and that's what makes me tick."
Responding to criticism about his personality, he conceded he was a "more private" person than his predecessor, Tony Blair, and needed to become more of an "open book". He said: "Perhaps I have spent too much time ... looking at the detail to solving people's problems," he said. "But to solve people's problems you have got to understand their problems."
Last night Tory sources described the Prime Minister's comments as the "desperate words of a desperate man on the road to disaster".
The thoughts of Gordon Brown
'I am listening to what people are saying and will continue to do so'
'You will find me going round the country far more often'
On the results
'I feel responsible and there are no excuses on my part at all'
On his personality
'The real me is someone who understands at root all the challenges that ordinary families face...'
'I'm not the same as Tony Blair – I'm a more private person ... But I also recognise that people have got to know who you are, where you come from, what you believe in and what you are about'
On press reaction
'I'm not going to be put off by a few days' headlines'
'John McCain was written off in America last summer and now he is the Republican candidate'