The prime minister and his deputy have relaunched their ailing coalition, pledging to maintain their policy of tough spending cuts despite voters rejecting austerity in France and Greece.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he would "not let up" on rapidly slashing public spending, even after his Conservatives and junior coalition partners the Liberal Democrats took a battering in local elections.
"I'm afraid we can't let up on the difficult decisions that we've made to cut public spending and to get our deficit and our debt under control," Cameron said in a downbeat appearance at a tractor plant in Essex on Tuesday.
"When you have a debt problem the one thing you mustn't do is keep adding endlessly to that debt."
But after Labour took control of 32 councils and won more than 800 seats from the ruling parties in Thursday's local elections, Cameron admitted: "We've got to try and help people more."
Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appeared at Cameron's side to back his plea for voters' patience in the renewed downturn, after Britain officially returned to recession in the first quarter.
The mood was in sharp contrast to that of a light-hearted press conference two years ago in a sunny Downing Street rose garden, when the pair announced they had formed Britain's first coalition government since World War II.
"The damage done during the recession was much greater than people first realised," Cameron said Tuesday.
But he appeared conciliatory to the pro-growth camp and hard-pressed voters, promising to "redouble our efforts" to revive the economy while keeping interest rates low.
"Just because we're dealing with the debt and the deficit doesn't mean we don't need to go for broke. We need to do all the things we can do to get our economy growing again," Cameron said, promising more schemes to boost jobs.
Britain has proceeded with a tough programme of budget cuts and tax rises, aiming to wipe out its budget deficit, the highest in the G20, by 2017.
But pro-austerity consensus among leading European countries was looking shakier after French voters Sunday elected as president the Socialist Francois Hollande, who wants to renegotiate Europe's fiscal pact to emphasise growth.
Greek voters fled to hard-right and far-left parties in elections the same day, and a new coalition there may reject austerity measures imposed with emergency loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Cameron sought to play down differences with Hollande, saying: "His programme for getting rid of his budget deficit is pretty much on a pathway with ours."
Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats opposed rapid spending cuts before joining the coalition after 2010 elections, backed Cameron's stance despite media reports of cracks in the alliance.
"We owe it to the youngsters of today to lift the dead weight of debt off their shoulders," Clegg said.
"We're not doing this for ideological reasons, with relish, because we want to shrink the state. We're doing this not because we want to but because we have to."
He said it would take six to seven years to recover from the "socking great heart attack at the very centre of our British economy" but added: "Austerity alone does not create growth."
Labour leader Ed Miliband, who was also in Essex, said voters wanted "answers about why they promised change and things have got worse not better" under a government offering "economic failure with unfairness piled on top".
Noting two-thirds of Britons failed to vote last week, Miliband said the country faced a "crisis of politics" as well as economic pain.
Analysts said the coalition had left itself little choice but to proceed with austerity, having placed the cuts at the centre of its platform.
"My suspicion is that they'd rather stick with it and lose the next election than change."
Source: AFP European Edition