David Cameron today declared his ambition to serve for a full five-year term if returned to power in the next general election, and said he hopes to be Prime Minister of a Conservative-only Government freed from the constraints of coalition.
Mr Cameron said that his decision to commit the Tories to running a surplus meant that there would be no room for a "spending splurge" if they win the May 2015 poll.
But he denied that the self-imposed constraint - announced yesterday by Chancellor George Osborne - would necessarily mean more reductions in spending on public services, and hinted that there could be more tax cuts in the offing.
There has been much speculation in Westminster that the Conservative leader might stand down half-way through a second term as Prime Minister - possibly after the 2017 referendum which he has promised on the UK's membership of the European Union.
But asked about his plans during a round of TV interviews at the Conservative conference in Manchester, Mr Cameron told ITV News: "When it comes to the next election, I will be putting myself forward for a full term - that's what I will do."
Mr Cameron said that the Tories were "only just beginning the work" of putting the British economy back on a stable footing.
"Mending what was broken is only half the job," he said. "The real job I am committed to is building a recovery and an economy for all, so that everyone benefits as the economy starts to grow and we start to turn that corner. That's what really fires me up, rather than just getting us out of the mess we were left...
"We are only just beginning the work. I don't want to quit half way through that. I want to get that done and get it done properly."
Mr Osborne's announcement that the Conservatives will aim to deliver a surplus - spending less as a Government than they take in from taxes and other revenues - even if they succeed in eliminating the deficit in 2018 as planned has led to predictions of seven more years of austerity economics.
But Mr Cameron told the BBC: "It doesn't necessarily mean that. We've set out our spending plans for 2015/16 and the spending totals for the following two years. What it means is not further cuts over and above that, necessarily, but it means you couldn't possibly go on a sort of spending splurge once you've done the difficult work - and it wouldn't be right for the country to do so."
Mr Osborne's pledge represented a challenge to the other parties, he said.
"The key point is, is it right to target a surplus at the end of the next Parliament?" asked Mr Cameron. "I think if you don't put aside some money in the good years, you build up a real potential problem for yourself.
"As the Chancellor put it yesterday, the last crisis took us to the brink. If we don't pay down some of our debt levels, then the next crisis could take us over the brink.
"Would you want a government that is not targeting a surplus in the next Parliament, that just said no we are going to run overdrafts all the way through the next Parliament? I don't think that would be responsible.
"So the other parties are going to have to answer the question do you think it's right to have a surplus? I do."
Mr Cameron acknowledged that the freeze "could mean a real-terms freeze in public spending" over the years 2015-20, but pointed out that i f unemployment fell and tax revenues rose over that period, it might be possible to increase spending by Government departments and still run a surplus.
He appeared to signal that there could also be room for tax cuts, telling ITV News he wanted to enable people to "keep more of their own money to spend as they choose".
"Do we need to do more to prove that this recovery is going to deliver for hard-working people who face steep rises in the cost of living? Of course we do," said Mr Cameron.
"Let's help people get their first home, help people get an apprenticeship and start a business. Let's help put more money back into people's pockets, more of the money they have earned.
"The job isn't done. We have started to turn the corner, but it's the type of recovery that we build that really matters. It mustn't be like the old booms of the past where the bankers made loads, lots of people were allowed to stay on welfare and hard-working people were left behind. That's wrong.
"We need to do more, because budgets are under pressure and, yes, it is good that the employment picture has recovered but we do need to turn that into increases in living standards by allowing people to keep more of their own money to spend as they choose."
Asked whether he would secretly prefer a second period in coalition with Liberal Democrats, in order not to be beholden to rebellious right-wingers if the Tories win a narrow majority, Mr Cameron replied: "Frankly, no...
"I sense, and I think the British people senses, it is now time for a government with a stronger mandate and a clearer accountability, so you know that what you get in the manifesto happens in government. That means a Conservative-only government. That's what I will be fighting for and I think it is achievable."
"I don't choose to talk about the things I can't get done because I am in coalition, because I am a positive kind of guy. But actually there is a lot I want to do that we are held back from."
He rejected suggestions that he was "detached" from traditionalist elements in his own party, saying. "The Conservative Party itself is a coalition and that is one of the great things about it. It includes a lot of people with different views but it is my team."