Margaret Thatcher may have ascended to that great free market enterprise in the sky. But Michele Bachmann, the former US Presidential candidate and “Queen of the Tea Party” laid claim to be her political heir when she addressed students at the Oxford Union.
The Minnesota Congresswoman, who has not ruled out another tilt for the Republican nomination in 2016, has become notorious for adopting positions so outlandish they make mainstream conservatives weep.
Last month Mrs Bachmann accused the gay community of “bullying” the America people and intimidating politicians. Then she suggested President Obama was only elected because of white “guilt” over past racial injustices.
So when Mrs Bachmann swept into Oxford’s debating chamber on Friday afternoon, her student audience anticipated that the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus would add to her cache of outrageous statements and wacky theories.
However Mrs Bachmann, 57, who will not seek re-election to Congress next year, fuelling speculation that she will launch another bid for the White House, used the occasion to relaunch herself as a credible leader with intellectual pretensions.
Awed by the invitation to follow Prime Ministers, including her idol Margaret Thatcher, in addressing the Union, the Congresswoman said: “It is a high honour to be invited to speak at the Oxford Union and share ideas with some of the brightest young minds in the world.”
Keeping her “batshit button” carefully hidden, Mrs Bachmann embarked on a statesmanlike lecture titled: “Seeds of Progress: The struggle between innovation and bureaucracy.”
The politician, who topped an Iowa straw poll of Presidential candidates in 2011 after galvanising the grass roots Tea Party movement with her opposition to Obamacare and “wasteful” government spending, delivered an academic exposition of her political philosophy.
“I believe that it is no coincidence that the greatest explosion of innovation in history accompanied our first experiments with political liberty and free enterprise. If we keep our societies open to innovation, we will continue to see breakthroughs that empower individuals to collaborate and transcend the bureaucracies that are thwarting progress.”
“I come to praise Great Britain not to bury you,” said Bachmann. “This is the epicentre of free speech. If only we had something like Prime Minister's Questions in Washington we would have a chance of perfecting the British art of wit.”
Her audience however, skipping the delights of a balmy Oxford afternoon, wanted Bachmann to expand on her opposition to a Hillary Clinton presidency – voters won’t feel the same “guilt” about electing a woman and Mrs Clinton was “in charge during the Benghazi debacle” – and why America will be saved by electing more politicians who share her “biblical”, Christian worldview.
Instead they received a folksy speech, which veered from an appeal to EU to abandon controls over the genetic testing of plant material to the difficulties of dealing with the very bureaucratic California Bureau of Secondary Education.
She was quitting Congress because she was tired of having to raise millions of dollars to fight her campaigns. Her new mission was to encourage ”innovation“. ”The next generation of Steve Jobs's is in this room and on this campus,“ she told students, who packed the Union's Goodman library.
Whilst Bachmann revelled in her distinguished surroundings the lustre appears be coming off the Tea Party star. The movement is in retreat and Republican managers are eyeing -up Presidential candidates who can appeal to an ethnically-diverse electorate.
She joins not just Thatcher and Winston Churchill in the pantheon of Oxford Union speech-makers but failed Tea Party Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell and former presidential candidate John Edwards, who was caught in a sensational sex scandal.
It can be a stage for the meteoric stars and curiosities of American political life to reclaim the spotlight. But they have to give the audience what they want to win their vote.