In our continuing series on city regions, Tory MP Caroline Spelman tells political editor Jonathan Walker about the conservative vision for the future of the West Midlands.
Birmingham could have a Big Brother-style contest to help decide a city mayor, under proposals put forward by the Conservatives.
Caroline Spelman, the shadow Secretary of State for Local Government, said the public could be asked to choose the Tory candidate through phone voting and text messages.
But the party was firmly opposed to a new regional tier of Government, she said.
The Tories back plans for local councils to work in partnership and take control of housing, transport and planning policy, instead of following orders from Whitehall.
But while Birmingham and neighbouring authorities are referring to this partnership as a city region, the Conservatives prefer to describe it as a "cluster" of councils working together.
They suspect that when the Government talks about city regions, it actually means something different - a brand new body which would take power away from councils.
And while the Tories back mayors, they believe these should be based around existing local authorities. So Birmingham could have a mayor, if it chose, and so could Wolverhampton and Coventry. This is in contrast to the Government's proposal, which appears to mean one "city region mayor" who would represent all three cities as well as the neighbouring towns.
Ms Spelman, the MP for Meriden, said a key principle in Conservative policy was to devolve power to existing councils.
"We believe that decision-making powers should rest with elected local government representatives and not be given to any sort of quangos.
"Our experience is that accountability is the crucial factor."
But the party also recognised that some decisions were too big for councils to take alone.
Any major decision regarding transport, for example, affected more than one authority and had to be taken on a wider basis.
The answer was to allow councils to form partnerships and decide together.
"I don't think the answer is to create a new tier of
"The cluster of local authorities will be well able to take responsibility for cross-border working on areas like skills and transport infrastructure."
This was the type of "city region" supported by the Conservatives, she said.
But central government would still need to intervene to ensure smaller authorities got a fair deal.
" There are some challenges with the city region however, because the sheer size of Birmingham means it is dominant in the conurbation. That is a worry for the smaller local authorities, and for the surrounding counties.
"So some influence needs to be given to them, so that they are not going to be crowded out by the weight of Birmingham.
"We all want to see Birmingham succeed because our fortunes rest on its success.
"It is inevitable that Birmingham will tend to take the lion's share of the funding, but for balance we need to make sure it doesn't take all the funding."
Under a Conservative government, city regions would make decisions on key policy issues which are currently taken in London.
"At the moment, the Government of the day decides the number of houses to be built and simply imposes this on the region.
"But we want that cluster to be able to decide these things," said Ms Spelman.
"They are much better placed - they have a better handle on the needs and barriers to be overcome."
The Tories also support the creation of directly elected mayors, she said, but would only introduce them where they were wanted.
"There are certain parts of the country that have shown a marked enthusiasm for an elected mayor.
"Birmingham rejected an elected mayor once before, but it may be that they change their mind.
"It would be a big job. We have just designed a wholly new selection system for the mayor of London with primaries, to reach beyond the party to all the public.
"If there was an appetite for a mayor of London there is no reason that mechanism shouldn't be used again."
The Tories in London are inviting the public to help choose their candidate for the mayoral contest.
There will be holding a series of public meetings across the capital, so that Londoners can quiz potential candidates face to face, and residents will then be able to vote by text or phone on who should be the Conservative candidate for the capital's top job.
One of the top priorities of a city region should be economic development, according to Ms Spelman.
"The biggest challenge is that we need a wholesale transformation of the regional economy, following the job losses as Rover, Jaguar, Peugeot and other manufacturers.
"When people came out of Longbridge, they said to me they had been making cars all their life and didn't want to stack shelves."
The region needed to attract and create high-technology industries, and that meant making the most of the impressive university base which included Birmingham, Aston and Warwick universities, she said.
"If you look further north, skills from the traditional industries of ship-building have gone into the sand. That hasn't happened to us in the West Midlands, but we need to adapt and change to make sure it never does."
She also highlighted the importance of the West Midlands controlling its own transport policy.
"Transport is absolutely key for our region. If we look at things holding us back, it is hard to dispute that under-investment in transport is the biggest problem.
"It is the principle issue identified by business.
"Birmingham gets only about one tenth per head of the investment compared to London for transport.
"Bits of money come out in a piecemeal fashion from Government.
"Alistair Darling (the former Transport Secretary) provided money but also told us what to spend it on.
"That is not how I would see the city region working.
They would be free to decide how that kind infrastructure money is spent."
"We could make bodies like Advantage West Midlands answerable to local authorities. They are not at the moment - they are answerable Whitehall."
A Conservative government would not try to force local councils to partnerships, she said.
"It would be up to them, but certainly in the West Midlands they are already used to doing it."
There is also no reason rural authorities such as Staffordshire, Herefordshire could not be part of the cluster, she added.
"Who is to say they won't be?"
It was important the rural areas were able to take advantage of the powers and influence a cluster would have to ensure they get a fair funding deal, she said.
"We would be very careful to make sure that the rural hinterlands did not lose out.
"We need to think about how to connect them to the cities, because they will come up short otherwise.
"What have the Regional Development Agencies done for rural areas?
"Not much. "But the shires do need Birmingham to succeed."