Gordon Brown confessed yesterday that he lost last week's television debate with Nick Clegg and David Cameron, but said he is still hoping to use the next two debates to project himself as a political heavyweight rather than a showman.
"I lost on presentation, I lost on style. Maybe I lost on smiling, some people may think," he admitted - while claiming that the programme had thrown the election "wide open".
The Prime Minister came out with a new one-liner, which is a pointer to how the Labour Party hopes to make a virtue of his relatively wooden television appearances. He said: "You campaign in style, but you have to govern in substance."
Despite being rated third out of three when viewers were polled on the leaders' performances immediately after the programme last Thursday night, Mr Brown implied that the success chalked up by the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, had improved Labour's chances because David Cameron no longer looks like a surefire winner.
"I think it's energised the campaign," he said on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show yesterday. "It's thrown the campaign wide open. People thought it was a closed book to start with."
He added: "I'm not certainly trying to be the king of presentation or PR style. Some people may think I'm a sort of tough headteacher, I don't know. But I've learned that at the end of the debate substance will come through.
"You campaign in style, but you have to govern in substance. And I think the British public is pretty clear: this is not an X Factor talent show. It's about who and what policies are going to be there for the future of the country."
Nick Clegg said the Liberal Democrats now have an "immense" opportunity to shake up the political system, although he also forecast that his success on television would put him in the line of fire.
He told a young audience in Sutton, Surrey: "Of course, they'll attack and of course they'll come up with all sorts of misleading claims. Of course, the old parties will start lashing out now."
But he added: "The opportunity is immense this time. A growing number of people are starting to hope, starting to believe a little door has opened, that maybe this time we can do things differently. The old politics messed up our economy.
"It was the old politics that allowed greedy bankers to gorge themselves on bonuses so that now we're all having to pay £1 trillion to bail them out. The two old parties have worked out that they have got to talk the talk of new politics, but when it comes to doing, acting, introducing the reforms which would clean up politics, they fail every time."
While Mr Clegg went for the youth vote, David Cameron aimed his appeal yesterday at pensioners, launching his Older People Manifesto in Swindon.
Among the pledges he highlighted was that a Tory government would end job discrimination and help the elderly to find work, as part of its Big Society project to make people less dependent on the government.
The Conservative leader paid tribute to his parents, Mary and Ian Cameron, who accompanied him at the launch. "The Big Society is our big idea, but I need to say thanks to my mum and dad because really it's down to them. They showed me how a Big Society could work every day I was growing up," he said.
"Like so many of their generation, the values implicit in the Big Society - duty, responsibility, obligation - are instinctive. It's just what you should do."
- THE INDEPENDENT