Boris Johnson is preparing to run for another four years as the Mayor of London, Conservative sources disclosed last night.
Mr Johnson is expected next month to confirm his candidacy for the 2012 election in which he could face a rerun of his dramatic battle with the previous Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who has put himself forward for the Labour nomination.
Mr Johnson has to date remained elusive about his intentions, prompting speculation that he could be considering a return to Westminster. But senior Conservatives now confidently anticipate that he will run again. One source said: "It is our expectation that he will have another go."
His decision will come as a relief to Tory high command as the Mayor is regarded as a potential successor to David Cameron. Friends believe that the 46-year-old still harbours the eventual ambition to lead the party.
The London Evening Standard yesterday reported that Mr Johnson was assembling a campaign team and a fund-raising operation. Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who advised on his successful 2008 campaign, could also return to mastermind the drive for votes.
Mr Johnson won 42 per cent of first- preference votes last time, after he targeted Tory-leaning boroughs in outer London, against the 36 per cent obtained by Mr Livingstone.
He could face a daunting challenge to repeat his triumph in two years' time if the Tory-led coalition government faces a backlash as it imposes spending cuts. But his high media profile, and his ability to distance himself from the Conservatives' national leadership, is bound to count in his favour. He could also benefit from the imminence of the London Olympics.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said reports he would definitely stand again were premature. But he added: "The Mayor has always made clear he thinks this is the best job in the world and if it's all going well at a suitable point in his mayoralty he would be minded to seek the people's endorsement to run again. He has signalled in the past that he would come to that decision in the summer."
Oona King, the former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, is also putting herself forward for the Labour nomination and has won the backing of several of the capital's MPs. In addition two party activists, Emmanuel Okoro and Seton During, have declared their candidacy. Labour will confirm its shortlist today, with the winner of the nomination announced at the party conference in September.