Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary

Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper have joined the race for the leadership of the Labour party as it seeks to claw its way back from a UK general election defeat that has left party members emotionally flattened.

Mr Burnham, shadow health secretary, has been building a strong support base for years — prompting claims of disloyalty from Ed Miliband’s inner circle.

He has garnered the backing of many left-leaning and northern MPs who believe that he can reach out to alienated former voters.

The bigger Labour-supporting unions, who still wield huge financial clout over the party, are also expected to endorse him.

In a 90-second video message Mr Burnham warned that his party had “lost its emotional connection with millions of people” in its worst election defeat for 30 years.

The 45-year-old Liverpudlian said that Labour’s challenge was to go neither left nor right. He said voters could relate to him because he could “understand their lives” — arguing that his party needed to reach out both to people on zero-hours contracts and John Lewis shoppers.

Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, also declared her candidacy.

Ms Cooper worked closely under Gordon Brown with the triumvirate who ran the party until last Thursday; Mr Miliband, Douglas Alexander and Ed Balls — her husband.

Until last week she was the bookmakers’ favourite for the post, but she faces a strong challenge for the position of “continuity candidate” against Mr Burnham, who was health secretary under Mr Brown.

Mr Miliband quit on Friday just hours after leading his party to a defeat of historic proportions, leaving a crowded field of potential candidates to replace him.

Labour’s governing body announced on Wednesday that there would be a contest throughout the summer with the result announced at a special conference on September 12. That allows the new leader to make a major speech at the autumn conference in October.

Declared candidates
Andy Burnham(9/4)
Yvette Cooper (5/1)
Chuka Umunna(5/4)
Liz Kendall(6/1)
Outside chanceTristram Hunt (8/1)
Odds from Paddy Power

Ms Cooper’s odds have drifted as attention turns to other frontrunners such as Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary.

Mr Umunna launched his bid with a video shot on a high street in Swindon, the Wiltshire town that Labour failed to seize from the Tories last week.

The Facebook clip appeared deliberately amateurish in what was seen as an attempt to deflect criticism of the Streatham MP’s overly smooth reputation.

With the backing of Lord Mandelson, the co-architect of New Labour, Mr Umunna has rapidly distanced himself from Mr Miliband’s leadership with a promise to enshrine “aspiration” at the heart of his leadership bid.

He faces competition from Liz Kendall, the Blairite shadow social care minister, who has already declared her candidacy. Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, is an outside bet for the leadership.

Mr Miliband, who thought he could win the election up until 10pm on Thursday, is now on holiday in Ibiza — leaving behind a party struggling to come to terms with defeat.

The scale of Labour’s humiliation — sinking from 258 seats to 232 — is worse than any scenario envisaged by most of its MPs. Marc Stears, speech writer to Mr Miliband, had written several drafts for his speech on Friday — but none of them involved resignation.

“I never thought we would be in this position,” said one member of the shadow cabinet. “It’s taking a while to come to terms with it.”

But in the corridors of the House of Commons talk among Labour MPs and activists is now turning to Mr Miliband’s successor.

June 9 MPs nominations open
June 17 Hustings period opens
August 12 Cut-off for new members to be eligible
September 12 conference to announce result

The Financial Times revealed on Tuesday that the unions are racing to sign up “affiliated supporters” to take part in the leadership election.

In the past the influence of union members was limited to only a third of the electoral college, with MPs and members each having another third.

Labour’s new election process has introduced a “one member one vote” system.

The union members — who can affiliate for free — will have the same voting rights as people paying the full £46.56 membership. That means they could end up outnumbering the full members.

Unite has engaged an external “professional engagement operation” — similar to a call-centre — to sign up as many of its 1m-plus members as possible before the contest begins.

Unions will no longer send out ballot papers: in 2010 they stuffed those envelopes with pro-Miliband leaflets. Yet they can still contact members via letters or phone calls or emails recommending a certain candidate.

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