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Boris plays down Tory leader talk

London Mayor Boris Johnson has claimed it is more likely that he will find himself on Mars with Elvis Presley than leader of the Tory Party, despite the boost in his popularity following the success of the Olympics.

Mr Johnson, who has been widely tipped as a potential successor to David Cameron, insisted he had no ambition to lead the Conservatives but did not explicitly rule out a tilt for the role.

Instead he echoed Michael Heseltine, claiming he "cannot foresee the circumstances" in which he would go for the job - but former defence secretary Mr Heseltine did launch a challenge for the leadership.

In an interview with ITV News it was put to Mr Johnson that he was now well-placed for the Tory leadership. The mayor said: "No, because I've got four years now of happy, and I hope, rewarding work here." He added: "David Cameron is doing a wonderful job in tough circumstances."

Pressed on whether he would never go for the role, Mr Johnson said: "In the immortal phrase of Michael Heseltine 'I cannot foresee the circumstances'."

As the former Cabinet minister did later challenge his arch-rival Margaret Thatcher for the job, prompting her downfall, Mr Johnson was asked whether that meant he too would launch a leadership bid.

Mr Johnson said: "No, no, no, no. My normal answer is about being blinded by a champagne cork or being reincarnated as an olive or locked in a disused fridge or decapitated by a Frisbee. All those eventualities - or waking up on Mars to discover Elvis Presley sitting next to me - all those eventualities are more likely."

Despite Mr Johnson's colourful attempts to play down his chances, he is a popular choice with voters to lead the Tories.

The London Mayor was the preferred candidate of 24% of those questioned by YouGov for The Sunday Times, followed by Foreign Secretary William Hague on 14%, ex-leadership candidate David Davis on 6%, Chancellor George Osborne on 3% and Education Secretary Michael Gove on 2%.

Mr Johnson was an even more popular choice as next leader among Conservative voters, with 33% naming him as the best replacement for Mr Cameron, against 24% for Mr Hague and 7% for Mr Davis. And several major Tory donors told the paper that they regard Mr Johnson as a potential future leader.

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