Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, has called on the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to apologise for a row in which he allegedly likened a Jewish newspaper reporter to a concentration camp guard.
Mr Livingstone reportedly made the comments to a London Evening Standard reporter, Oliver Finegold, after a party last week marking the 20 years since Chris Smith, the former culture secretary, became the first MP to reveal that he was gay.
Ms Jowell told GMTV's Sunday Programme: "I don't believe he has a racist or an anti-Semitic bone in his body: look at his political record. Sometimes he has a filthy temper and I think he lost his temper because he was doorstepped in an aggressive way. It is always a good idea that if you lose your temper it is good to apologise."
A spokesman for Mr Livingstone accused the paper of harassment, a charge denied by the Standard. The Mayor also faces censure tomorrow from the London Assembly. Brian Coleman, the Tory chairman, has tabled an emergency motion calling on the Mayor to apologise and withdraw his comments.
An apparent vendetta between Mr Livingstone and the Standard began after appointment of Veronica Wadley, as editor in 2002, when the paper reported that the Mayor drunkenly attacked his partner and a friend at a party. Mr Livingstone denied the claims.
His office became convinced that Ms Wadley had an agenda of attacking the left-leaning Mayor, noting she had failed to respond to his invitation to lunch shortly after her appointment.
Mr Livingstone has since been a thorn in the side of the Standard's owners, Associated Newspapers, by taking legal action over the arrangements to distribute the free title, Metro (also owned by Associated). Mr Livingstone has threatened the paper's exclusive rights to be distributed on the Underground, encouraging Associated's great publishing rival, Richard Desmond, to publish his own free London title.