ED Miliband will pledge today that asset-stripping companies will not be tolerated under a future Labour Government as he offers a "new bargain" to the British people.

In what will be interpreted as a dramatic break with the avidly pro-business policies of New Labour, he will say that not all firms will be treated the same under a Labour administration.

Party sources suggested that regulatory systems might be used to punish bad businesses. They cited Southern Cross as exactly the kind of business they had in mind.

The party hopes the message will resonate with voters following the billion-pound bailout of the banks in 2008.

In his flagship speech to his party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Miliband will also set out a new deal with voters, stating that benefits should reward those who make an active contribution to society.

Going further than simply cracking down on cheats, he will say that those who are making a positive impact in their areas should receive better treatment than those who are not.

However, he could face criticism for the suggestion an individual’s contribution could simply be having a job, at the same time as his party attacks the Tory-LibDem Coalition for failing to do enough to tackle unemployment.

Although the Labour leader is expected to discuss only the benefits system and social housing, aides did not rule out that his “something for something” principle could potentially be extended to other areas, such as the NHS in England -- although they described this as speculation.

But on the eve of his crucial speech last night, Mr Miliband’s leadership suffered a major blow as a new opinion poll put the Tories ahead for the first time since he took over last year.

The Comres poll also showed only one in four people thinks Mr Miliband is a credible prime minister in waiting.

The Labour leader has already come under fire this week after he appeared to suggest a commitment to cut university tuition fees in England by £3000 might not actually appear in the party’s next election manifesto.

And deputy leader Harriet Harman stumbled over his name yesterday, initially calling him David during a radio interview in an apparent mix-up with the brother whom he defeated in the race for the top job.

Mr Miliband’s speech to the Labour conference today will be only his second since he took over last October.

In the run-up to the party conference he pledged to take on the vested interests in industries, including railways and power companies.

Today he is expected to say: “The wealth of our nation is built by the hands not just of the elite few but every man and woman who goes out and does a day’s work.

“You’ve been told all growth is the same, all business is the same. But it’s not.

“You’ve been told that the choice in politics is whether parties are pro-business or anti-business. But all parties must be pro-business today.”

He will add that some companies are “asset-strippers” and some are wealth-creators.

“They’ve been taxed the same. Regulated the same. Treated the same. Celebrated the same. They won’t be by me,” he will say.

Labour sources stressed last night Mr Miliband was attempting to set out a direction of travel rather than announce concrete policies.

On welfare, Mr Miliband is expected to praise councils that take “contributions”, such as work, volunteering or good behaviour

into account when allocating council houses.

“If what you want is a welfare system that works for working people as well as all of us when we fall on hard times, I’m prepared to take the tough decisions to make that a reality,” he will say.

“The hard truth is that, even after reforms of recent years, we still have a system where reward for work is not high enough, where benefits are too easy to come by for those who abuse the system and don’t work for those who do right thing.

“When we have a housing shortage choices have to be made. Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t? My answer is no.

“Our first duty should be to help the person who shows responsibility.”

Labour sources last night said that the speech “would be light on apologies”.

“It is going to be a speech on where he wants to go from here,” they said.