Ed Miliband defied his critics by declaring that he would lead his party "my way" as he portrayed David Cameron as the defender of an outdated, failed system that Labour would sweep away.
Mr Miliband acknowledged his party's two big weaknesses – its lack of economic credibility and that he remains largely unknown to the public after 12 months in his job.
"I'm not Tony Blair. I'm not Gordon Brown either," he said in his speech to the Labour Conference in Liverpool yesterday. "I'm my own man. And I'm going to do things my own way." He promised to extend to other areas the boldness he showed in taking on Rupert Murdoch's empire over phone hacking. But his pledge to change the unacceptable face of capitalism is bound to be attacked by the Conservatives as a shift to the left. It may also alarm some in his own party.
Recalling that his Jewish parents fled the Nazis and came to Britain, Mr Miliband said he possessed both the "heritage of the outsider" and "the vantage point of the insider". He won a standing ovation by declaring that the Tories could never be trusted on the NHS. But an undercurrent of concern about his failure to make more headway surfaced as delegates digested yesterday's ComRes poll for The Independent showing the Tories had edged one point ahead of Labour. One told a fringe meeting: "We have to ask: 'How long are we going to go on with Ed Miliband?' It's not working."
The Labour leader admitted he faced a "tough fight" but said the lesson he had learnt in the past year was to take risks, stand up for what is right and be willing to break the consensus.
He left his speech shorn of policy announcements so to make his "big argument" about Britain's "quiet crisis". He defined it as "an economy and a society too often rewarding not the right people with the right values, but the wrong people with the wrong values".
Although the address was seen as hazy by some, the outline of a Labour strategy for 2015 could just be detected. Mr Miliband described Mr Cameron as "the last gasp of the old rules" who had "the wrong values for our country and our time".
Deriding Tory plans to cut the 50p rate of tax paid on earnings over £150,000 a year, he declared: "How dare they say we're all in it together?"
He went on: "Only David Cameron could believe that you make ordinary families work harder by making them poorer and you make the rich work harder by making them richer."
Mr Miliband's main theme was to offer the country "a new bargain to break open the closed circles, and break up vested interests, that hold our country back, to ensure responsibility from top to bottom."
Challenging the consensus of the last 30 years, the Labour leader condemned the "predators" only interested in "the fast buck" and said the key question was: "Are you on the side of the wealth creators or the asset strippers? The producers or the predators?"
He pledged: "When I am Prime Minister, how we tax, what government buys, how we regulate, will be in the service of Britain's producers."
He condemned the actions of the private equity firm which owned the Southern Cross carehome business and the "predatory pricing" and "rigged market" operated by the Big Six gas and electricity companies.
Insisting he was proud of Labour's record in its 13 years in power, Mr Miliband admitted: "Good times did not mean we had a good economic system. We changed the fabric of our country, but we did not do enough to change the values of our economy."
He conceded that Labour would not be able to reverse many of the Government's cuts, and said his party would deal with the deficit if the Coalition failed to do so.
"People need to know where I stand. The Labour Party lost trust on the economy. And under my leadership, we will regain that trust. The next Labour government will only spend what it can afford... That we will manage your money properly."
The women's vote is one of the main battlegrounds between the parties, so The Independent spoke to four women from the Liverpool area after they had watched Mr Miliband's speech.
Betty Wilcott, 62, retired caterer, lifelong Labour voter
"Though he looked sort of strung up when he was speaking, I thought he came across quite well. I like him a bit more now. I feel sorry for the kids. Tuition fees should be lower."
Jane Burton, 48, retired nurse, Conservative voter
"He was pathetic. We don't want to hear about his family and how much he is in love with his wife. He doesn't strike me as a Prime Minister. He's too timid."
Nicola Gatehouse, 33, dispensing optician, mother of Isla, aged one. Undecided
"His presentation style was very good. He was actually quite funny. He didn't say enough about young mothers. Yes, we have to make cuts, but they seem so drastic."
Fiona Milne, 30, financial director of a small telecoms company, mother of Sebastian, aged 10 months. Undecided
"He's a bit of a wet lettuce. I think his brother looks like a Prime Minister. Labour made so many mistakes that he had to admit they had made mistakes, definitely."