LONDON (Reuters) - London's colourful mayor, Boris Johnson, widely regarded as a potential challenger for Prime Minister David Cameron's job, said on Wednesday he would try to run for parliament in next year's national election.
Winning a parliamentary seat would be the first step in any bid to succeed Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party - a job that Johnson has coyly denied interest in for years while at the same time fuelling constant media speculation.
"I haven't got any particular seat lined up but ... since you can't do these things furtively I might as well be absolutely clear that with all probability I will try to find somewhere to stand in 2015," he told an audience in London.
Known for his eccentric manner, sharp wit and unruly mop of blond hair, Johnson, 50, has gained popularity beyond the Conservatives' traditional voter base. He has won two mayoral elections in London despite large parts of the city voting for the opposition Labour party in a 2010 national election.
Johnson was celebrated for his role in London's successful hosting of the 2012 Olympics, an event which boosted his profile overseas - not least for a botched public appearance which left him dangling on a zip wire above a rainy London park holding Union Jack flags.
Cameron welcomed Johnson's decision, even though it is likely to reignite speculation about his future as leader.
"Great news that Boris plans to stand at next year's general election - I've always said I want my star players on the pitch," Cameron, who is currently holidaying in Portugal with his family, said on Twitter.
A YouGov poll in June showed that voters see Johnson as the person who would make the best leader if Cameron stepped down.
Both attended the elite Eton school, though Cameron is two years Johnson's junior. Both were also members of the Bullingdon Club - an exclusive Oxford University society known for its hard-drinking culture and decadent banquets.
Johnson, who is almost universally referred to as 'Boris', has crafted a shambolic, self-deprecating comedic style to his public appearances, although he is known to be an ambitious politician.
Asked in 2010 whether he could one day become Prime Minister he said: "I'm more likely to be decapitated by a Frisbee or locked in a disused fridge."
He previously served as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) between 2001 and 2008. He said he would serve out his term as London's mayor, which lasts until 2016, and if elected to parliament could hold both roles simultaneously.
Johnson chose to make his much-anticipated announcement following a speech on Britain's future in Europe in which he adopted a more Eurosceptic stance than Cameron - saying that Britain could thrive even if it left the European Union.
"I want to stay in a reformed EU, that really serves the consumer and business, a Europe of citizens and not of bureaucrats and politicians," he said, speaking at the same venue where Cameron last year pledged a referendum on Britain's EU membership by 2017 if he wins next year's election.
"I think if we argue persuasively and in friendship we can get that by 2017. But if we can’t then I think we have nothing to be afraid of in going for an alternative future, a Britain open not just to the rest of Europe but to the world."
His words will appeal to the large Eurosceptic contingent within the Conservative party which has been critical of Cameron for his handling of an issue which has historically divided the party and toppled previous leaders.
Cameron wants Britain to stay in Europe but says the 28-country bloc needs to be reformed.
Johnson says he supports that policy, but by speaking openly about the prospect of a British exit, he has gone further than Cameron, who has only said he is confident of success in his renegotiation bid.
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt