AFTER two years at the helm of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron has announced that he will be stepping down as the party's leader.

Following a snap general election that saw him clinch constituency victory by just 777 votes, the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP cited his faith as the impetus behind his shock resignation.

It was a decision that he had made some eight weeks prior to his announcement following months of media questioning on his theological beliefs, particularly regarding his stance on homosexuality.

"I don't consider myself a victim in the slightest," he told the Gazette. "But I made the decision I made because I thought it clearly is going to be a thing now forever. I'm going to be asked about points of theology and my faith all the time.

"In the end I've either got to compromise in a way that is just wrong or I've got to make a choice and give up - you can't serve two masters."

Just hours before his stepping down speech, Mr Farron had told the Gazette that he was staying on as leader. The decision of 'when' came late in the day, as he was queuing to swear in as MP.

"I just stood there having a good old think about stuff," he said. "I think the fact that I was at peace with it and I didn't feel a conflict and it just struck me very clearly that this was the right thing to do."

However, he was happy to confirm that he would be continuing as MP for as long as people were 'prepared to have [him]'.

"I came straight back up here after Wednesday night and I had the best two nights I've had in ages." he said. "Various school visits, surgeries out in the bird cage, I did a load of door knocking, a farm visit. It's brilliant and I love it.

"I have every intention of staying for as long as the people around here want to have me."

Although he said that he had 'mostly' enjoyed the last two years at the top, he had been concerned that his increased focus on national matters would reflect on his local presence.

"Since I became leader I was worried in advance that people would think we won't see as much of him," he said. "And therefore you go out of your way to do even more. But there are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, so without a doubt I will be able to spend significantly more time here, and I will want to."

Mr Farron said that he feels 'two stone' lighter since making his resignation speech and, by the sounds of it, it is a decision that his family are also pleased with.

"Yes she is," he said, when asked if his wife Rosie was pleased he had stepped down. "I think it's been a stressful period. But she knows that it's been a real challenge and the kind of - attacks is the wrong word - but the constant focus on faith, and what that means for us as a family, has been a challenge."

And it was not just Rosie that was happy with her husband's choice.

"I was absolutely together with it all and I didn't feel emotional about it," Mr Farron recalled. "I felt pleased to have done it and I'd made my statement. I was preparing to go and get in a car and go up north and I got a little text from my daughter which just said: 'I'm very proud of you, you've done the right thing' and I had a little cry'."

As the dust settles on his announcement, speculation now mounts as to who might take Mr Farron's job.

MP for East Dunbartonshire, Jo Swinson, has taken herself out of the running but looks set to run for the position of deputy leader. She will most likely take up the position of acting leader for the summer, marking the first time that the Liberal Democrats will have had a woman in the top position.

Mr Farron believes that this will leave Norman Lamb, Vince Cable and Ed Davey as the three in the running for his job - however, he gleefully states that it is an issue he must remain neutral on.

Instead, he is keen to turn his attention back to his home patch. His priorities, he says, are 'what they ever have been' and cites affordable housing, health and social care as examples.

An immediate concern for the Milnthorpe resident is schools funding, something which he says is going to 'hit' the area hard in the next 10 weeks.

"I think a lot of people, even parents of schoolchildren in South Lakes, won't have picked up on this because head teachers and chairs of governors are really good at hiding the difficult decisions by doing everything they can to make things work," he said. "But the survey that showed that two in three head teachers across the country were having to make at least one teaching post redundant at the end of this academic year does anecdotally appear to be borne out locally."

Lastly, then, how does the Blackburn Rovers fan typify the last two years?

"Success," he says, confidently. "The party could have disappeared completely. The eight seats we got left with, nobody ever said that had to be a minimum, and we were in a situation where we could very easily have not existed.

"I think what we've managed to do is stop the party disappearing and we've created a purpose for the Liberal Democrats and we're back in a period of growth and we're solid.

"We refused to go quietly into the night and we're back. There's more to be done but I’ve done a job. Could I have done more? Could I have done more with longer? Yes, but there's only so much one person can do and you shouldn't think it's all on your shoulders.

"The job has been done and now I want to focus on the job I've always enjoyed the most."

And the job he enjoys the most? It is a phrase stolen from his grandmother that perhaps sums it up best.

"You have two ears and one gob," he quotes. "Use them in those proportions - so it's about getting out there and doing a lot of listening."