David Cameron pledges 'to work hard to win back' voters
David Cameron has pledged "to work really hard to win back" former Conservative voters who have defected to the UK Independence Party.
With results in from 30 of 35 councils in the 2013 local elections, the Conservatives have lost 229 councillors, with UKIP gaining 92.
The prime minister said: "We need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party."
He understood people "want us to do even more for hard-working people".
As results were announced in the elections for the 34 county councils in England and one in Wales, Mr Cameron said: "I think there are major lessons for the major political parties."
He was commenting in his constituency in Oxfordshire, where the Conservatives lost control of the county council, but retained more seats than their opponents.
"For the Conservatives I understand why some people who have supported us before didn't support us again. They want us to do even more to work for hard-working people to sort out the issues they care about," he said.
"More to help with the cost of living, more to turn the economy round, more to get immigration down, to sort out the welfare system. They will be our focus, they are our focus, but we have got to do more."
Mr Cameron once described UKIP as a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".
But, asked if he stood by this characterisation, he said: "Well, look, it is no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for.
"Of course they should be subject and they will be subject to proper scrutiny of their policies and their plans. But we need to show respect for people who have taken the choice to support this party and we are going to work really hard to win them back."
The prime minister has faced a backlash from some Conservative councillors who lost their seats in the election.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Alexis McEvoy, defeated in the South Waterside ward of Hampshire County Council by a UKIP candidate, said: "There is a problem with the people at the top of our political parties. They just don't listen. They don't listen to ordinary people or our concerns.
"The European Union referendum is a good example. David Cameron says he'll have a referendum, but no-one believes a word he says. I don't believe a word he says, and I'm a lifelong Conservative."
Graham Marsh, who lost his Lincolnshire county council seat by 58 votes, urged his Conservative colleagues to eject Mr Cameron as party leader.
"David Cameron has had long enough," Mr Marsh said. "He needs to show firm leadership with the Lib Dems and go to the country if necessary."
But Education Secretary Michael Gove dismissed the suggestion.
"It's barmy, the idea of changing the leader is bonkeroony," he told BBC Radio 4's the World At One programme.
"Of course we shouldn't have a leadership election and of course there shouldn't be any speculation about it."
Speaking to BBC news, he later added: "There is a sense sometimes of exasperation with the political classes. We do sometimes see the three of us [Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems] as pasteurised cheese on the cheese board, and then UKIP is the rich, ripe, stinky alternative, and people think, 'Ooh, I don't mind having a slice of that.'"
Conservative MP Adam Afriyie, who has been the subject of speculation about future Conservative leadership candidates, said he was sad to see the loss of his party's councillors.
He told the BBC: "What I've been looking at is the future of our country and the future nature of government because government is just too big.
"There is no getting away from this... people are just fed up with the political class and, I have to say, so am I to a certain degree."