Brown still sees his economic record as the way to electoral salvation

As Lord Mandelson's speech at Labour's latest "launch event" was abruptly punctuated by the sound of a Volkswagen Golf ploughing into a nearby bus shelter yesterday morning, the gathered journalists could scarcely believe they had been presented with such a ready-made metaphor for Gordon Brown's last week on the campaign trail.

Even without the intervention of Gillian Duffy and a stray radio mic, the tactics deployed by Labour as it attempted to rescue itself from one of the most disappointing results in modern times had begun to smack of desperation. The appearance of the Prime Minister alongside an Elvis impersonator last Saturday began a week that saw him snubbed by a children's cartoon character, before being plunged into the bigot-gate fiasco.

But the final days of the campaign will see Mr Brown turn to safer ground as strategists attempt to focus on what they see as his great strength. "What you'll be seeing is us putting the economy front and centre from now until election day," said a senior aide. "We realise we have some work to do and it's going to be tough, but we will be concentrating on the strength he has on the economy."

They have also promised not to hide the Prime Minister away after the horrors of Rochdale. "It wouldn't make a lot of sense to hide away a candidate who you believe is the right man for the job," said a No.10 insider. In a bid to show their leader is not cowed, Mr Brown will be putting in the miles, completing quick-fire tours of whole regions.

To complement a theme of Mr Brown's experience in handling the fragile economy, the party will also highlight the "risk" posed by backing Mr Cameron. It is an argument favoured by Alastair Campbell, designed to capitalise on the apparent lack of enthusiasm among many thinking of voting for the Tory leader. Senior figures will also repeat a "never say never" mantra that the polls remain extremely volatile.

Last night, Mr Brown attempted to offer an explanation to hid disastrous reaction to Mrs Duffy, who had questioned his policies on immigration. "I thought she was talking about expelling all university students from this country who were foreigners," he told Jeremy Paxman for an interview shown on BBC 2 last night. "People say things in the heat of the moment when you get angry and you have got to apologise for that."

Mr Brown also revealed he would slash spending on Britain's roads and housing from next year as he was pressed on what cuts he would make should he win the election. "We have renovated about two million houses over the period of the last 13 years. I do not see the need for us to continue with such big renovation programmes," he said.

The final straight of the campaign will see Lord Mandelson's "underdog strategy" reach its climax. Mr Brown showed his intent yesterday during a visit to Loughborough University. His speech to students, athletes and gymnasts was peppered with regular references to the need to find "inner strength". He invoked the spirit of Eric Liddle, the British Olympian featured in Chariots of Fire. "You have to try harder, work longer, and dig deeper. That's what I've got to do over the next few days," he said. In an observation approaching a mea culpa, he recalled that as a member of his school's relay team, he had dropped the baton. "You never forget that," he said.

A rearguard action in those marginals, designed to snuff out the Liberal Democrat surge, will be the focus of the closing days. Ministers will be dispatched and ordered to push the final week slogan: "It's your future, vote for it". They will also tell voters that backing Nick Clegg could let the Tories in through the back door. "The one thing Labour strategists are most determined to communicate is the risk of a spike in the Lib Dem vote depressing the Labour vote and leaving the Tories to win by standing still," said a senior party figure.

The tactics were rehearsed by Mr Brown in a message to party members issued last night. "There are more undecided voters in this election than in any I have ever been involved in," he said. "We now have less than one week to persuade them to vote for us."

Five days to go

Reasons to be cheerful

A high number of undecided voters suggests David Cameron has not "sealed the deal" with the electorate.

Reasons to be fearful

Still a real possibility of finishing third behind the Liberal Democrats, which would be the party's biggest electoral disaster for generations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project