Andy Burnham moved decisively to bury his left-wing reputation today as he said Labour should praise entrepreneurs and the self-employed as 'heroes'.
Mr Burnham, the bookies' favourite for Labour leader, said the party could never win an election without business support or the backing of 'white van man and woman'.
In a speech to Ernst & Young near the City of London, he also unveiled new policies to boost aspiration, including an UCAS-style system for apprentices. He also called for the Government to hold the EU referendum by the autumn of 2016.
The Shadow Health Secretary's speech came on a busy day for the Labour leadership race, with Liz Kendall also setting out her vision to help schoolchildren achieve their potential and Yvette Cooper staging a cross-country tour of key seats.
Mr Burnham, who has come under fire for receiving the backing of trade union chiefs such as Unite's Len McCluskey, said that Labour under Ed Miliband had become 'too narrow' in its outlook.
"Far too rarely over the last few years has Labour spoken up in praise of the everyday heroes of our society. The small businessman or woman; the sole trader; the innovator, the inventor, the entrepreneur. The small businesses that become big businesses.
"The people with the creative spark to think of a new idea and the get-up-and-go to make it work. Who often have to fight against the odds to succeed, but put in the hours, the sweat and the hard graft to do it.
"So I want this message to go out loud and clear today: in a Labour Party I lead, they will be as much our heroes as the nurse or the teacher."
In a clear jibe at Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt, who is now backing Ms Kendall, he also said that there were dangers in trying to appeal only to one section of the electorate.
"Aspiration is not the preserve of those who shop at John Lewis. Aspiration is universal; it is felt by Asda and Aldi shoppers too," he said.
Mr Burnham told the business audience that the 'single biggest priority' for the next Labour government would be to draft a workable plan for growth, infrastructure, business investment and job creation.
"I think part of the way Labour got it wrong on business in the last parliament was that we simply didn't say enough that we value what you do - creating jobs and wealth," he said. We didn't celebrate the spirit of enterprise."
On welfare, often seen as one of the reasons working class voters drifted to UKIP and the Tories, he said Labour had to dispel its current image of being on the side of the workshy.
"It worries me that, in some people's eyes, Labour has become associated with giving people who don't want to help themselves an easy ride. That must change before we can win again."
"We must change that perception before we can win. The Labour party I will lead will once again truly be the party of work."
The party, he said, could only regain trust if it supports those who "put in the hours, the sweat and the hard graft" to succeed.
"I have never believed in levelling down, denigrating success or the politics of envy. Nor have I believed that people should be handed everything on a plate," he said.
Mr Burnham also said that the 'mansion tax' had been 'the wrong judgement' call by the party in the last Parliament.
The Leigh MP also said that the party had entered the last election "with business and the public unclear on how Labour will balance the books, or when we will do so."
But he stressed that although he was unhappy with some Labour policies, he put his loyalty to Mr Miliband first. "I voiced the concerns I had behind closed doors but I don't exist to make problems," he said.
"I'm a football man. When you’re out on pitch you get behind your captain, get behind the team. That's the kind of person I am and I think most people can relate to that."
Meanwhile, Ms Cooper toured Tech City in London as part of her 'listening tour' of Britain.
She warned that the leadership race was in danger of getting "stuck in the rhetoric and the battles of our party's past when it should be talking about our country's future".
"It would be the biggest mistake of all to seek comfort in past victories or defeats. We can’t get sucked back into replaying Miliband vs Miliband, Blair vs Brown, or trying the old campaign playbooks from the 1990s or the noughties. Britain has moved on. We need answers for tomorrow not yesterday."
In a speech in Leicester, Ms Kendall echoed Mr Burnham's pitch that she had gone from a state comprehensive school to Cambridge University, the first in her family to do so.
She also said that if she became Labour leader, she would create an independent “Inspiring the future” project, to encourage businesses and community activists to go into state schools "and show how education can transform children’s lives".