Angela Eagle said she had not embarked on a political “suicide mission”, as she launched her bid to topple Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
The former shadow business secretary said she could make Labour electable again, after the “howl of pain” expressed in the Brexit vote.
“I don’t go in for suicide missions,” Ms Eagle said, when asked if her chances were doomed should Mr Corbyn be allowed on the ballot paper.
Ms Eagle said it was a matter for the party’s national executive committee whether Mr Corbyn needed to be nominated by 51 MPs and MEPs to be allowed to stand as a candidate.
Taking a swipe at Mr Corbyn, Ms Eagle said: “A kinder politics must be a reality, not just a slogan.” She said she was not a Blairite or a Brownite: “I am my own woman.”
Referring to an attack from shadow health secretary, Diane Abbott, who claimed that Eagle’s bid was akin to The Empire Strikes Back, because she represented the old guard in Labour, Ms Eagle joked: “More like Return Of The Jedi.”
Ms Eagle said she had no choice but to stand against Mr Corbyn, because Britain was in danger of becoming a “one-party Tory state” under his leadership.
Saying she could unite the party, Ms Eagle said the anti-EU win in the referendum showed that voters felt they had been ignored for too long.
The party faces bitter legal wrangles over how the leadership election will be organised. Corbyn has vowed to fight any challenge and to continue, despite the overwhelming majority of his MPs having lost confidence in his ability to secure a general election victory.
Ms Eagle has the backing of the 51 MPs needed for a formal challenge, but it remains unclear whether Mr Corbyn will also have to secure such support to fight the leadership battle.
55-year-old Eagle said her background, as a “good, sensible, down-to-earth woman with northern roots”, would help her lead the party.
Meanwhile, Owen Smith, another potential leadership contender, expressed fears that Mr Corbyn and his allies were prepared to split the party to remain in place.
In a further sign the party is on the verge of civil war, Mr Smith said that he asked Mr Corby three times whether he was prepared to see a split, but “he offered no answer”.
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