Gordon Brown on Tuesday called for a new spirit of global ethics and market morality to guide this week’s G20 summit, in a speech at St Paul’s cathedral that combined lofty rhetoric with a low attack on his political rivals at home.

The British prime minister used a speech to faith leaders to suggest that David Cameron, the opposition Conservative leader, was prepared to stand aside while the recession took its toll, a policy which he said “demeaned our humanity”.

With Sir Christopher Wren’s cathedral as a backdrop, Mr Brown insisted “markets need morals” and claimed he was something of a lone voice in arguing in the past that markets should be restrained.

It was an ambitious speech, in which Mr Brown attempted to give his chairmanship of the G20 a spiritual underpinning – unfamiliar territory for most British prime ministers. Although a son of a preacher, Mr Brown is not a regular churchgoer.

Mr Brown and Kevin Rudd, Australian prime minister, argued untrammelled globalisation crossed moral boundaries and the rebuilding of shattered markets should be founded on values held dear by all faiths.

“We are not here to serve the market, it is here to serve every one of us,” Mr Brown said. The capitalism that emerged from the crisis had to be built on hard work and responsibility, he said.

Asked whether politicians should engage in questions of faith, Mr Rudd said he recently discussed the issue with Alistair Campbell, the former press officer to Tony Blair who famously laid down the iron rule: “We don’t do God.”

Mr Brown said politicians should not try to be bishops, but recalled the values he imbibed as a son of the manse. But the ecumenical tone of his lecture did not stop him making a partisan attack on the economic policies of Mr Cameron.

His voice booming through the vault of the cathedral, Mr Brown said there were some who said “the only thing we can do in the face of a recession is to let it run its course and do nothing”.

Mr Brown did not name Mr Cameron, but regularly makes the same allegation. “That is to demean our humanity because there are always options, always choices, always solutions that human ingenuity can summon,” he said.

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