Labour activists have got to stop “avoiding people’s eyes, shuffling uncomfortably and trying to get away” when the subject of immigration comes up, Andy Burnham has said.
The Labour leadership hopeful made the comments as he called for Britain to meet a "quota" of migrants to take the pressure off other EU countries that are taking far more, complaining that no one was "taking ownership" of the issue.
Burnham said he sought to win back voters lost to Ukip, who distrusted Labour on immigration.
Immigration has proved a difficult issue for Labour, as the subject has shot up the political agenda and become more and more important to voters.
The party was roundly mocked for producing mugs printed with the campaign promise 'Controls On Immigration' in the runup to the election.
Burnham told The Telegraph: "I want those voters back. The vast majority of British people are not xenophobic or racist – they just want fairness.
"In the less well off part of the country where housing is cheapest, the change they have to deal with is pretty significant.
“They have the sense that MPs all live in posher areas, don’t see what they go through and hence don’t help them, and so feel alienated and forgotten.”
Burnham also told the paper David Cameron could find his hand in the EU reform negotiations strengthened if the UK took in a greater number of the thousands of people entering Europe to escape poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East.
Germany has pledged to take 800,000 migrants this year, four times as many as in 2014 and far more than Britain.
"We can't just say it is everyone else's problem and not ours, we have got to play our part. I think if we were to do that I think we might get more of what we want to negotiate on EU migration," Burnham said, complaining that "no one is taking ownership of the problem".
His comments come after net migration to Britain hit 330,000, the highest on record. The figures left Cameron further away than ever of achieving his pledge of cutting it to the tens of thousands "no ifs, no buts".
The numbers were branded "deeply disappointing" by Home Officer minister James Brokenshire.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: "These figures reflect Borderless Britain and total impotence of the British government."