Former deputy prime minister John Prescott has thrown his weight behind Andy Burnham in the race to replace Ed Miliband as Labour leader.
Lord Prescott compared Mr Burnham to Tony Blair, who won three general elections for Labour, claiming the former health secretary showed many of the “skills and qualities” demonstrated by the ex-prime minister.
The high-profile endorsement of Mr Burnham will come as a further boost to the bookmakers’ favourite for the leadership.
In his Sunday Mirror column Lord Prescott said: “Before Tony became our leader, he spent 11 years as an MP. In that time he learned his brief, gained the -experience, handled the media and won the public’s trust with an overwhelming landslide.
“I have seen a lot of those skills and -qualities in Andy Burnham during his 13 years as an MP. Many people talk about aspiration but Andy is a living example - a working class lad from Liverpool who went to a -comprehensive and got a place at Cambridge University.”
He added: “Andy also has that one thing all leaders crave - the common touch. I’ve seen him in small groups and big meetings.
“People instantly warm to the guy. He’s a family man who loves his football. He’s not just faking it like Cameron to be popular.
“Blair wasn’t the complete leader when he was elected. It took time and he made mistakes. But he had the potential, the ideas, the experience and the determination to succeed.
“Tony was a winner. We now need someone who can earn the trust of the public and has an insatiable desire to help everyone get on in life.”
But Mr Burnham’s bid for the leadership was condemned by health whistleblower Julie Bailey, who worked tirelessly to expose the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal.
She told the Mail on Sunday: “While health secretary, Andy Burnham presided over a culture of denial and cover-up over NHS care scandals that cost lives in failing hospitals across the country.
“From ignoring repeated warnings about high hospital death rates, to dodging calls for a public inquiry, Andy Burnham put politics before patients every time.”
She added: “We believe him to be a grossly unsuitable candidate. It would be a disaster for patients if he was ever to become health secretary again, let alone assume any higher public office.”
The leadership contender’s spokesman said: “Mr Burnham ordered the first and second inquiries into the terrible care failings at Mid Staffordshire, against civil service advice at the time. It is concerning that the Tories are not implementing the recommendations of those reports.”
Meanwhile, Mr Burnham’s rival Yvette Cooper said she will put measures to help families at the heart of her campaign to rebuild Labour after its election defeat.
The shadow home secretary said Labour had to “reach outwards” and “rebuild”, winning back voters who deserted the party in favour of the Tories, Ukip and the SNP.
Ms Cooper believes she can smash the “glass ceiling” and become Labour’s first permanent female leader, vowing to “shake up the system”.
Mother-of-three Ms Cooper, whose husband and former shadow chancellor Ed Balls lost his Westminster seat in the general election, said Labour had to offer hope to families.
In an interview with The Sun on Sunday, she said: “We need to put families at the heart of our politics. As a mum, I feel very strongly about that because my family, my kids are the most important thing in my life.
“That has to be reflected in what we do. We have got to reach out and rebuild and that means winning back voters.”
Ms Cooper has tried to present herself as a unity candidate for the party, warning against being dragged to the left or right by Mr Burnham or Liz Kendall respectively.
Setting out her pitch, she said: “We’ve got to show practical things we can do to help families get on, to know their kids can get an apprenticeship, have a good start in life and go to university. “
Mr Balls, who failed in his own leadership bid when he ran against Mr Miliband in 2010, has said he will not play a role in his “brilliant” wife’s efforts to secure the job, insisting it’s “her campaign, they are her ideas”.
Ms Cooper said: “I’ll always be my own person. I’ll stand up for women and men across the country who want to do their own thing, have their own ideas and get on.
“Yes, that will mean challenging prejudice, sexism and different kinds of attitudes. But I think we can smash the glass ceiling and shake up the system.”
Labour has been temporarily led by women before, with Harriet Harman currently acting as leader and Dame Margaret Beckett filling the role on an interim basis after John Smith’s death in 1994.
But three of the four candidates in the running to replace Mr Miliband are women, with shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh also in the race with Ms Cooper and Ms Kendall.