By Sara Ledwith
LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - London Mayor Boris Johnson hosted R upert Murdoch at an Olympic swimming event on Friday, fuelling speculation that the head of News Corp might be poised to endorse a bid by the Games cheerleader for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
Johnson has supported the media tycoon despite a police investigation into phone-hacking by journalists at titles owned by News International, News Corp's UK operation.
Johnson has said he was warned in 2006 he may have been a victim of phone-hacking. As mayor of London, he is also head of the police force investigating the hacking allegations.
Johnson has defended the invitation, saying the 81-year-old Murdoch has done much to promote British sport. "I have a big programme of engagements and it is the right thing to do," the mayor told Reuters on Tuesday.
The mayor's office said on Friday Murdoch was among 23 business leaders Johnson hosted at the event.
"For me, it's totally inappropriate behaviour and beyond the jokey-blokey style," Jenny Jones, a member of the London Assembly for the Green Party, said of the invite.
"Boris Johnson does an awful lot of things that are close to the bone, but this borders on a lack of understanding of what's going on."
The Guardian newspaper said Murdoch might be set to back Johnson to take over as leader of the conservatives from Prime Minister David Cameron. The newspaper cited sources familiar with Murdoch's thinking, and referred to his tweeted praise for the organisation of the Games so far.
"London in best shape ever," Murdoch tweeted on Aug. 2. "All overboard about the Olympics, brilliantly organized by Zeb Coe and Boris Johnson."
He later corrected the spelling of the organising committee chairman's first name to Seb.
Many UK media have speculated that Johnson hopes to capitalise on a successful Games to launch a bid for the leadership of his party.
A YouGov survey for Murdoch's the Sun newspaper this week suggested support for the Conservatives would rise to 37 per cent if Johnson was leader, up from 34 percent now.
The mayor has long defended Murdoch's role in the 1970s and 1980s, when he defeated trade union opposition to simplify newspaper production and cut costs.
"In the life of the city - I think he did a lot of good," Johnson told Charlie Rose on U.S. public television in June. "I mean you know the guy is - look, I'm - I'm a believer."
Murdoch has stepped down from a string of boards overseeing the Sun, Times and Sunday Times newspapers in Britain, News Corp said in an internal memo earlier this month.
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