Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country could have a single elected mayor under new plans unveiled by the Government.
Ministers set out changes to the law which will make it harder for councils such as Birmingham to avoid holding a referendum on creating a directly-elected mayor.
And in an interview with The Birmingham Post, Local Government Secretary Hazel Blears indicated that she may go further - and simply order councils to hold a referendum.
She also revealed that ministers may require councils working in close partnership to create a single regional mayor to oversee skills, transport, planning and housing policy.
Under the law as it stands, campaigners need to gather signatures from five per cent of eligible voters in order to force their local council to hold a referendum on moving to a mayoral system.
Ms Blears believes this hurdle is too high, and helps explain why just 12 local authorities have appointed mayors so far.
A White Paper, called Communities in Control, proposes cutting that figure to as low as two per cent - with the aim of creating more directly-elected mayors across England.
Earlier this year, a Birmingham campaign calling for a referendum failed to gather the 36,249 signatures required, but the new system would mean campaigners in the city needed just 15,000 signatures to force a ballot.
Mike Whitby, the Conservative leader of Birmingham City Council, is fiercely opposed to the creation of a mayor, but the Government’s proposals have been welcomed by Eric Pickles, the national Tory local government spokesman.
Ms Blears told The Birmingham Post: “I’m keen to see more elected mayors, and I say in the White Paper that we strongly support the idea of elected mayors. I think that the public increasingly wants to see a person that they voted for, that they can hold to account, who is responsible.
“And we are going to make it easier for people to demand an elected mayor. So we are going to consult on reducing the threshold, which at the moment is five per cent.”
Petition organisers would also be able to collect names through the internet, again in an attempt to make them more likely to succeed, she said.
Asked whether she would consider simply holding referenda without needing a petition, she said: “Let’s see about a consultation about lowering the threshold first, and then having online petitioning, and see where we go from there.
“I think that’s the future of politics to be honest.”
Ms Blears also said she backed regional mayors to govern areas working closely together in what are called Multi Area Agreements.
These are overseen by the Government and generally include the promise of extra money or autonomy from Whitehall if councils agree to improve services.
Birmingham, Solihull, Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Coventry and Telford and Wrekin have already developed an informal Multi-Area Agreement which focuses on cutting unemployment, and have held discussions with ministers about seeking formal recognition for the agreement.
Ms Blears said: “If you create such a body, and you give them powers, and they have got big budgets, you have got to have governance that’s accountable for spending that money.
“And you have got to have transparent governance if you are creating a big organisation.”
She added: “We are a little bit away from it, but I think we are on that journey.”
Ms Blears also announced plans to force council chief executives and chairs of public bodies such as health trusts to attend public meetings on a regular basis.
Councils will be encouraged to run prize draws for voters in local elections - to encourage people to go to the polls with the chance of winning a reward.
And councillors will be allowed to take part in debates and vote from their armchair, without attending council meetings.
The White Paper said: “We want to support authorities in modernising the way they do business by legislating to enable councillors with caring responsibilities and others, for example those with long journey times, to use information and communication technology to participate in meetings and vote remotely.”