MORE North towns and cities will demand to be led by a directly-elected mayor if the shake-up is a success in Newcastle, Lord Heseltine has predicted.

The Conservative peer - who has campaigned for mayors for 20 years - said the city would enjoy better, more dynamic leadership if it voted 'yes' in a referendum next May.

Newcastle will join England's 10 other largest cities in staging simultaneous votes that - David Cameron hopes - will transform their leadership.

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Speaking at the London launch of a campaign for 'yes' votes, Lord Heseltine said: "This will be a stepping stone.

"If the mayoralties are a success in these 11 cities, then I have no doubt that the dominoes will begin to fall in other authorities.

"And that can only be a valuable thing, a way of rekindling entrepreneurial enterprise."

Only a directly-elected mayor could answer the question "who is in charge", the peer argued, insisting council leaders were invisible by comparison.

Lord Heseltine also warned that England's urban centres will suffer a painful financial squeeze if they reject the switch to being led by a mayor, who could gain national recognition.

He pointed to the examples of London mayor Boris Johnson and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, who were both exploiting their powerful positions to gain greater financial clout.

He said: "If you are an English provincial city, you will find yourself in the extraordinarily uncomfortable place of being sandwiched between the two of them - which is not where you would choose to be."

However, mayors are already in place in Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, where Ray Mallon has protested at deep cuts to funding of the town's services.

Ministers have hinted at offering existing powers to the existing mayors, including Mr Mallon and Hartlepool's Stuart Drummond. but the plans were shelved.

Furthermore, the people of Darlington voted overwhelmingly against a switch to mayor in a referendum in September 2007, by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.

At the London event, London's mayor argued that his direct backing from voters gave him extra muscle in relations with the government, the private sector and leaders from abroad.

Mr Johnson also said it made him more accountable, adding: "People know they can make their point to me and I will have to take it up."

However, a Newcastle mayor will have far fewer powers than London's, after a call for a 'metro mayor' - with responsibility for the whole of Tyne and Wear - was rejected.