Boris Johnson could be prime minister for longer than Margaret Thatcher after a strong showing in local elections, ministers have said.
Johnson would have to stay in charge for more than the 11 years Thatcher was at the helm but his MPs are confident he can pull it off, according to a report in the Times.
It comes after the Tories stunned Labour by winning the Hartlepool by-election on Friday.
The Conservatives overturned a majority of 3,500 at the general election to take the seat – which had been Labour-held since it was formed in 1974 – with a majority of 6,940.
Tory candidate Jill Mortimer gained 15,529 votes – more than half the total cast – with Labour’s Dr Paul Williams trailing on 8,589.
Watch: PM says By-election victory is a mandate
Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen was reelected with a commanding 73% of the vote, up from 51% four years ago.
And the Tories also managed to take control of councils in Harlow, Northumberland, Nuneaton and Dudley.
The results have given the Conservatives confidence the country’s political identity has permanently shifted, which will allow Johnson to continue as PM for many years, the report added.
A cabinet minister said: “It seems to me to be more than just a short-term rejection of Labour. It looks fairly permanent.”
Another added: “Labour haven’t represented working-class patriotic voters for a while. They’re too woke, too Islington metropolitan elite.
“They’re becoming a London party. Boris is a unique politician. If he wants he could do what Thatcher did and then some.”
Johnson travelled to Hartlepool to hail the result as a mandate for the government to continue delivering on its “levelling up agenda”.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he will do “whatever is necessary” to rebuild trust in the party following its “bitterly disappointing” defeat in the Hartlepool by-election.
After seeing another pillar in its once impregnable “red wall” fall to the Tories, the Labour leader told his party to “stop quarrelling among ourselves” and address the needs of the country.
The bruising result – described as “absolutely shattering” by one shadow cabinet minister – prompted calls from across the party for a change of direction.
Sir Keir said he was determined to address the problems.
He said: “I’m bitterly disappointed in the result and I take full responsibility for the results – and I will take full responsibility for fixing this.
“We have changed as a party but we haven’t set out a strong enough case to the country.
Starmer added: “I intend to do whatever is necessary to fix that.”
Watch: Keir Starmer vows to do 'whatever is necessary' after Hartlepool defeat