He was born in the Shelton suburb of Stoke-on-Trent, and joined the Labour Party in 1982. In 2005 he was elected as the second directly elected mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, defeating the previous mayor Mike Wolfe.
In 2008, following a local referendum, the position of elected mayor was abolished.
In 2009 he was arrested on suspicion of corruption, but no charges were brought. He was subsequently elected as a councillor.
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