A year ago Sir Peter Soulsby became the first directly-elected mayor of Leicester after securing 55 per cent of the vote against 11 candidates. With a referendum in Birmingham just two weeks away, Neil Elkes spoke to him.
When the English Defence League and rival anti-fascist groups threatened to bring Leicester city centre to standstill with a major demonstration in February, the elected mayor Sir Peter Soulsby issued an appeal for calm which appeared on the front page of the Leicester Mercury.
There had been scuffles and violence at a previous demonstration and the city was naturally anxious.
But it was expected of him, as city mayor to take a lead and after working closely with police, the protest was, compared to more violent confrontations seen at previous EDL protests, relatively subdued. After a couple of hours the city returned to normal.
He explains that this is key difference between the role of the City Mayor and the old-style city council leader.
He said: “We had the EDL coming to town and it was quite a big thing.
"The last time they had come the city centre had closed down for 24 hours.
“But as mayor I was able to take a grip of that issue, working with police and other stakeholders in a way that I would never have been able to as council leader. To shape our response and then on the day of the visit to articulate on behalf of the city our opposition to everything the EDL stood for.
“And for that to be message from the mayor on the front of the Leicester Mercury was something that would never have come from a council leader.”
Sir Peter is ideally placed to comment on the differences between council leader and mayor, after he was Labour council leader in Leicester for 17 years, before turning to Parliament where he served as MP for Leicester South for six years.
In April 2011 he stood down from the House of Commons to stand for elected mayor and romped home against 11 rivals with about 55 per cent of the vote.
He explains: “I am leader for the city, rather than just the council.”
There has been some grumbling about policies, pay and the role of the civic Lord Mayor, or the guy with the chain as Sir Peter refers to him, but by and large he says no-one now seriously questions the idea of a City Mayor.
And it is particularly effective with foreign visitors and potential investors.
“If people are looking as to whether to invest in the city they want to meet someone who can deliver for them.
"With whom they can do the whole deal rather than have to go to a chair of planning, cabinet leader for this and that and perhaps a council leader. They understand the mayor is the person to who they should be speaking.”
His is not the glitzy office you would expect of a post described by anti-mayor campaigners as akin to an elected dictator. And his team of four young staff, seconded from other council departments, does not seem excessive.
And, the one claim in Birmingham which is three times the size of Leicester is that it is too big a job for one man.
A significant proportion, if not a majority of the democratic world, the mayoral system is established as the best way of managing large towns and cities and in some ways having our leader and cabinet model is very much the exception.