Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has thrown his hat into the ring in the battle for the Labour leadership.
Mr Burnham joins Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall in the race to replace Ed Miliband, with the new leader to be announced at a special conference on September 12th.
Following last week’s general election results, which prompted Mr Miliband’s resignation, the former health secretary admitted Labour had “lost its emotional connection with millions of people” and promised to “rediscover the beating heart of Labour”.
In an apparent signal that he will seek to return the party to the approach adopted under Tony Blair, Mr Burnham said he wanted Labour to "speak for everyone and for the whole country", and to address voters' aspirations in the way it did in 1997.
In a video message, Mr Burnham appeared to take a swipe at potential leadership rival Tristram Hunt, who has spoken of the need for the party to appeal to the "John Lewis couple" who shop in upmarket department stores, as well as its more traditional supporters.
Leigh MP Mr Burnham said: “The party that I love has lost its emotional connection with millions of people.
“The way to get it back can’t possibly be to choose one group of voters over another - to speak only to people on zero hour contracts or only to shoppers at John Lewis.”
Signalling his intention to pursue a “big tent” approach, Mr Burnham added: “Our challenge is not to go left or right, to focus on one part of the country above another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour.
“And that is about the aspirations of everyone, speaking to them like we did in 1997.”
Stressing the need for Labour to help businesses grow, to enable voters to pursue the dream of a better life, and for the party to renew its appeal to voters in Scotland - where it suffered near wipe-out at the hands of the SNP - he said: "Labour wins when it speaks to everyone and for the whole country, for middle England but also Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“And it needs a leader whose voice can carry into all the nations and regions of the UK, be heard in every home. Someone who people can relate to, who understands their lives.
“I am that person. I can unite this country. And that’s why I am standing to be leader of the Labour party.”
Shadow education secretary Mr Hunt has indicated he is considering joining the fight for the leadership, while shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper is also expected to stand.
National Executive Committee
Mr Burnham’s announcement came hours after Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) agreed a four-month campaign to find a new leader and deputy leader, under the new one-member-one-vote system adopted by the party last year.
Acting leader Harriet Harman said: "The general election saw the Labour party suffer a serious defeat, and over the coming weeks we need an open and honest debate on the right way forward.
“Our challenge now is to use this time to listen and learn, to elect a new leader and deputy leader who will rebuild the Labour party in order to take the fight to this Tory government and to stand up for Britain.”
A deadline of August 12th has been set for members and supporters to sign up to receive a vote in the election.
Some 30,000 new members have joined in the few days since Mr Miliband’s resignation, and unions are expected to mount an intense drive to encourage thousands of their members to become affiliated Labour supporters in order to have a vote.
Under the timetable set out by the NEC, the formal election period will open on Friday.
The parliamentary Labour party will stage hustings for the leadership contenders on June 8th, and for deputy leadership contenders on June 9th, when nominations for both posts open.
Nominations for leader will close at midday on June 15th and for deputy leader at noon on June 17th. Ballot papers will be sent out by post on August 14th and polling will close at noon on September 10th.
Unions to 'play part'
Earlier, Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite trade union, dismissed claims that Labour lost the general election because it was too left-wing and said his union would “play its part” in the debate on the party’s future.
“Labour didn’t lose votes by proposing to tax the wealthiest a bit more, or intervene in the housing and energy markets. It did lose support because of its muddled message on austerity,” he said.
“Unite will play its part in the debate ahead and - unlike the politicians - will also be the first line of defence for millions of people in work and in the communities now facing an all-out onslaught on what remains of the welfare state and a decent society.”
Ms Harman also said the close of nominations for leader and deputy leader were being staggered to try to avoid having a men-only leadership team.
The acting Labour leader rejected suggestions that Labour sowed the seeds of its general election defeat by taking months to choose a leader in 2010, giving the Conservatives time to implant their message in voters’ minds that Labour was to blame for the financial crash.
Ms Harman told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “What you’re saying is that, because we lost the argument after the 2010 election defeat, we therefore didn’t win the 2015 election.
“What I’m saying is that we actually lost the argument - in my view - about the economy before the 2010 election defeat.
“I actually do think, though, that we are ever more mindful than we were in 2010 that we have to make sure that as the official opposition we are right up there challenging the government right away.”