Former federal Liberal Party director Lynton Crosby this week formally joins the campaign team of the world’s favourite Tory, Boris Johnson, as he seeks to follow in the footsteps of Dick Whittington and become Lord Mayor of London.

The London Evening Standard has reported that Crosby could receive up to £100,000 for his work in the lead up to the May election.

Crosby became a contentious figure in the UK after his work on the Conservative’s 2005 general election campaign, which resulted in a disappointing defeat for then leader Michael Howard. He was criticised for “dog whistle” campaigning; sending subliminal messages to target groups on subjects such as immigration.

Crosby, a boy from Kadina on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, and the Old Etonian and former Spectator editor and media polymath Johnson make an odd couple.

BoJo, as the tabloids call him, is often criticised as a dilettante with a “gifted amateur” approach to politics. British reports say Crosby’s appointment will give a boost to Johnson’s campaign, which has been criticised by both the commentators and Tory insiders for its slow start.

However, last week, a YouGov/ITV London Tonight poll put Johnson just one point behind the Labor incumbent, Ken Livingstone, on 44%. “Johnson seems to be remarkably close, given that he has done little campaigning yet, and customers have spotted an opportunity,” The Guardian quoted a spokesman for bookies Ladbrokes as saying. “He may also benefit from higher turnout levels in traditional Tory areas; and the race may be closer than the bookies first thought.”

Johnson’s high profile is both a curse and a blessing. He was sacked from the Tory frontbench and the party executive in 2004 in the wake of accusations he lied over a four-year extramarital affair with Spectator columnist Petronella “Petsy” Wyatt, the daughter of a Labour peer. Later, Johnson was papped by the News of the World leaving the home of another journalist, Anna Fazackerley.

He has been at the centre of media controversies on matters ranging from mawkishness on Merseyside to cannibalism in Papua New Guinea.

However, Johnson has become a cult figure for media work ranging from guest-hosting the program that inspired Good News Week, Have I Got News for You to a documentary on ancient Rome and a car column for British GQ.

Last year he became the figurehead for a successful campaign to continue the teaching of Latin in schools, appearing at a rally in a toga.

The Johnson campaign should provide an, er, interesting challenge for Crosby.