Ken Livingstone, Labour's candidate for the London mayoralty this year, provoked a storm of criticism yesterday for describing the Conservative Party as "riddled" with closet gays.
He also implied that after 1997, Labour MPs who came out as gay had automatically qualified for promotion.
He made the gaffes while answering questions about the extent to which politicians are entitled to privacy. He told the New Statesman magazine that the public "should be allowed to know everything, except the nature of private relationships – unless there is hypocrisy, like some Tory MP denouncing homosexuality while they are indulging in it."
Asked by the interviewer, Jemima Khan, why he singled out Tory MPs in that remark, Mr Livingstone claimed that "the Labour ones have all come out". He added: "As soon as Blair got in, if you came out as lesbian or gay you immediately got a job. It was wonderful... [and] you just knew the Tory party was riddled with it like everywhere else is."
Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate for London mayor, who is gay, told Sky News that Mr Livingstone "appears to be gay-friendly as a political ploy [as leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, he openly supporting gay rights] but in unguarded moments his true views come out."
And two London Conservative MPs, Angie Bray and Mike Freer, wrote to the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, demanding that he order Mr Livingstone to retract the remarks. Ms Bray said: "These are the sorts of offensive remarks we hear all too often from Labour's mayoral candidate. Ed Miliband should condemn these outrageous comments and get him to apologise immediately."
A spokesman for Ken Livingstone said: "Ken is clearly saying the advance of lesbian and gay people into politics is unequivocally a good thing.
"He has fought for equality for gay and lesbian people throughout his life, and the fact they are represented in all major political parties is a sign of the progress that has been made."