In a radio interview, London Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone defended his relationship with homophobic and anti-semitic Muslim cleric and his former presenting job with Iran’s state broadcaster, Press TV, claiming it was an attempt to “engage” with the country and reduce the threat of military action.

Speaking to Gaydar Radio’s Scott Roberts, the former Mayor denounced the Iranian regime for outlawing homosexuality and repeatedly executing gay men and lesbians – but still denied he was a hypocrite for accepting payments from the Iranian state.

Asked to justify this, Labour’s candidate for London mayor said “I don’t go to Iran, because I don’t accept what the regime does, but if I’ve got a chance to talk directly to the Iranian people I’ll take it, just like I talk directly to the people reading Murdoch’s papers.”

Livingstone, who also once worked for The Sun, said he “didn’t agree with [Rupert] Murdoch”, referring to him as “a monster – not quite as much of a monster as the regime in Iran.”

Gaydar also questioned Livingstone about inviting the controversial Muslim preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi to City Hall in 2004 during his time as London mayor. The cleric is banned from entering the United States and has previously said that gay people should be executed and has also supported female genital mutilation. Livingstone was unapologetic, stating that Qawardi was the victim of “demonisation” by the western press.

When asked if he had used the opportunity to change al-Qaradawi’s views on homosexuality Livingstone replied: “No. I made no effort to change it, this is what he said, and if I’m asked to judge a person on what I hear them say, or what I read about them in The Sun, sorry but I’m going to believe what I hear.”

Livingstone support for al-Qaradawi had reportedly strained his friendship with the veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. When asked about this, he merely responded, “Yeah, but I met him and Peter didn’t, I had a conversation with the man.”