Gordon Brown squarely confronted his Labour critics and turned his fire on the Conservatives in a highly personal speech designed to prove that he remains the best man to lead Britain up to the next general election.
He openly admitted his mistakes, but bluntly told the Labour faithful that there was no one else qualified to see the country through the global economic turmoil.
In words that appeared directed both at plotters backing David Miliband and the Conservative leader David Cameron, he declared: "I'm all in favour of apprenticeships but let me tell you – this is no time for a novice."
In an hour-long speech Mr Brown defended both his record and his style of leadership, rejecting claims that he has failed to connect with the voters.
He joked: "I didn't come into politics to be a celebrity or thinking I'd always be popular. Perhaps that's just as well."
The Prime Minister insisted: "I'm not going to try to be something I'm not. And if people say I'm too serious, quite honestly there's a lot to be serious about. I'm serious about doing a serious job for all the people of this country."
"Where I've made mistakes I'll put my hand up and try to put them right. So what happened with 10p stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes – because on the side of hard-working families is the only place I've ever wanted to be. And from now on it's the only place I ever will be."
He added: "The British people would not forgive us if at this time we looked inwards to the affairs of just our party when our duty is to the interests of our country." He insisted: "I know what I believe. I know who I am. I know what I want to do in this job. And I know that the way to deal with tough times is to face them down."
Mr Brown declared that we were "in a different world" after the global economic shocks that have sent markets into a tailspin.
He said: "In truth, we haven't seen anything this big since the Industrial Revolution. This last week will be studied by our children as the week the world was spun on its axis and old certainties were turned on their heads."
He believed the "dogma of unbridled free markets" had been proved wrong, pledging transparency, sound banking and responsibility in financial institutions, and warning that bonuses "should be based on hard work, effort and enterprise" not on short-term speculative deals.
The Prime Minister promised "a great and historic endeavour to end the dictatorship of oil and to avert catastrophic climate change, as he said he wanted to work towards an 80 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2050 – higher than the 60 per cent reduction currently being considered.
He said he wanted British industry to lead the world in low carbon technology, creating one million jobs.
Mr Brown remarked: "While the Conservatives did nothing to help people with their gas and electricity bills in the last world downturn, this winter millions of people will receive help with heating bills, insulation, social tariffs."
Mr Brown vowed to eradicate child poverty by 2020 and said he would enshrine the pledge in law, insisting it "demeans Britain" to have youngsters living below the poverty line.
He said children who fall behind at school would have a guaranteed right to personal catch-up tuition and he repeated his pledge to "transform" any state school where results fall below expected standards.
Mr Brown also announced plans to pay for one million families to get access to the internet "on our way to our ambition of Britain leading the world with more of our people than any other major economy about to access the internet and broadband".
Mr Brown repeated that he owes a personal debt to the National Health Service, saying an emergency operation had saved his sight when his one good eye started to deteriorate. He said he was "committed to reforming it to serve its values even better".
He added: "In April a Labour Britain will become the first country in the world to offer free universal check-ups for everyone over 40." Mr Brown also announced that cancer patients would not have to pay prescription fees as of next year. He said: "Because we know that almost every family in Britain has been touched by cancer... we must do more to relieve the financial worry that often goes alongside the heartache."
The Prime Minister declared greater help for "the generation that rebuilt Britain from the ashes of war", promising new plans to help people stay longer in their own homes and protect them from the costs of care. He said: "No one should live in fear of their old age because they worry their care will impose financial burdens they could never afford to face."
The Prime Minister promised: "We will take knives off our streets."
He said the Government would "put victims first" in the criminal justice system with more effort to involve ordinary members of the public. "You will be seeing more neighbourhood policing, hearing more about the verdicts of the court, see the people who offended doing more community payback."
David Cameron's team cannot be trusted to run the economy, the Prime Minister argued. He said they would have allowed the stricken bank Northern Rock to collapse and "imperilled the whole financial system".
Mr Brown said: "Their strategy is to give the appearance of change and conceal what they really think. And when salesmen won't tell you what they are selling, it's because they are selling something no one should buy."
He said: "If you look below the surface, you will see the Conservatives might have changed their tune, but they haven't changed their minds."
The Independent asked first-time voters at Manchester University students' union to rate the Prime Minister before and after his speech in Manchester yesterday:
Emma-Charlotte Whelton, 22
"He admitted he was wrong about the 10p tax rate. That was good. I liked the fact that he stood still. It looked confident and strong. I hope it wasn't a farewell speech. I don't want him to go."
Before: 7/10; After: 7/10
Matthew Kilheeney, 22
"It made me think better of him, but it hasn't made me want to vote for him. It was as if he was saying, 'I've been knocked around, and I'm going to stand here and I'm going to take it'."
Before: 5/10; After: 7/10
Karen Davies, 21
"I think he has done well. In the speech he did a good job of engaging with little people like me. When he mentioned his children he made himself seem normal, a member of a family."
Before: 6/10; After: 7.5/10