Gordon Brown struggled to regain the political initiative on Friday as he ended a US tour overshadowed by the Pope and dogged by growing unrest over his abolition of the 10p income tax rate.
The prime minister is angry at parts of his own party and the media for misunderstanding his tax changes and overstating the negative impact on working families.
Although about a quarter of households are predicted to lose out from the 2007 Budget measures, Mr Brown believes this narrow analysis does not take account of tax credits and other benefits set up for pensioners and families over the past decade.
“There are issues about how we get our message across to the public,” he admitted in a GMTV interview.
His frustrations were aggravated on Friday after three more parliamentary private secretaries spoke out against the tax change that has galvanised backbench opinion against Mr Brown.
The outbreak of indiscipline and a scheduling clash with the Pope’s US visit have left Mr Brown facing an uphill struggle to draw attention to his own priorities for his tour, including an ambitious speech on the “urgent” need to reform international institutions.
Even as he prepared for meetings at the White House, Mr Brown was fielding calls to stem a growing rebellion on the Labour backbenches, which is likely to come to the fore next week when the finance bill is debated in the Commons.
Underlining the political difficulties, one of his closest advisers described the unease within the Labour party as part of a tough period that was likely to worsen before it improved.
Ed Balls, the schools secretary, said: “It has been a tough few weeks – there is no denying that – and with less than a fortnight to the local elections it is going to get tougher.”
In separate comments that are unlikely to settle the febrile party atmosphere, Mr Balls told fellow Labour MPs they were carrying out “indulgent nonsense”.
On Friday, Mr Brown held talks with Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, at the British embassy in Washington, in the last of a series of US meetings on the credit crisis.
The two men discussed the economic and financial outlook, including the prospects for housing in both economies, policies being adopted by British and US authorities, and the rise in oil, food and other commodity prices.
Mr Brown was particularly interested in discussing the threat that high food prices posed to the poor in developing countries, and US measures aimed at protecting home owners from the housing market slump. The talks with Mr Bernanke followed a meeting on Wednesday with some of the most prominent bankers on Wall Street, where Mr Brown pushed for more expeditious disclosure of losses.
The prime minister travelled to Boston on Friday to deliver a wide-ranging address on foreign policy. He spoke of “a new dawn in collaborative action” to tackle the “terrifying risks” of the next century.
He believes that a new cadre of leaders in Europe, with a more positive outlook on transatlantic relations, offers a unique opportunity to reshape the world’s institutions to tackle the challenges of poverty, security and climate change.
“American leadership is and will be indispensable,” Mr Brown told an audience at the Kennedy presidential library in Boston.
He thinks a lack of co-ordination and co-operation between international financial bodies has made the credit crisis more severe. His answer is for the International Monetary Fund to be radically reshaped to create a system providing early warning of financial crises.
The government faced further embarrassment on Friday when it emerged that the Home Office had been reprimanded by the head of the civil service for breaking guidelines restricting ministerial announcements during the run-up to next month’s local elections.
Sir Gus O’Donnell, the cabinet secretary, gave a public commitment on Friday that he would continue to remind civil servants to adhere to the guidelines, which were breached this week during a speech by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.