Will Rory Stewart’s bid to be Prime Minister end up as a curious historical footnote or will it be the precursor to something more substantial?

Following his travels around the UK, inviting people to engage with him in the streets and at public gatherings, Stewart’s ejection from the Tory Party leadership race saw him back on home ground.

A few days after failing to secure enough votes from his fellow Conservative MPs to stay in the contest, he was at The Quiet Site campsite near Ullswater, cutting the ribbon at its new zero-waste shop.

A commendable project. Supporting it is very much the kind of thing a constituency MP does. A long way, though, from televised debates and millions of social media impressions.

Some of that star quality clung to the former diplomat and probably-not-spy as he strolled in on a warm afternoon. Stewart’s unusually open approach to debate attracts admirers. Many Labour and Lib Dem voters expressed support. So did celebrities as diverse as Gary Lineker, Piers Morgan and Professor Brian Cox.

ITV’s political editor Robert Peston claimed Stewart ‘delivered the most coherent and lyrical launch speech of any candidate. On this showing the Tories have found a proper star.’

But Peston was right to predict that the Tories would reject him as too moderate. Stewart was eliminated in the third round of voting, having never secured more than 37 votes from the Conservatives’ 313 MPs.

He spoke to The Cumberland News between bites of lunch: two small sausages, sliced pepper and hummus on a paper plate from the buffet.

He put his failure to achieve sufficient support down to his colleagues’ reluctance to face what he regards as uncomfortable facts.

“I think my message - which is pretty straightforward, which is that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for example for agriculture in Cumbria, presented with Argentinian beef coming in quota-free and us having to pay a 40 per cent tariff to export - I just can’t land with people.

“The lesson is, how do I learn to express difficult truths about economics without people saying ‘This is Project Fear’? People are generally very practical. But when it comes to Brexit, if I say to them ‘How is this going to work for your business?’, they say ‘Oh, I’m sure it will be fine.’”

Many people have claimed that Stewart is in the wrong party. Would he ever consider going elsewhere?

“No. I’m a Conservative. I believe in tradition. Love of history. Individual rights. Limited government. I believe in restraint abroad, prudence at home. I’m a Conservative.”

Will he be campaigning for Jeremy Hunt in the next few weeks? “I’ll be voting for Jeremy Hunt in the next few weeks.”

Stewart says that his recent travels around the UK increased his understanding of the issues, and suggested that other politicians could benefit from such an approach.

“I represent an area that has poverty but in many ways it’s a sort of paradise. And the contrast with what I’ve seen in other parts of the United Kingdom. Derry / Londonderry, with the flags of the Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries out. Tower Hamlets, where I arrived just after someone had been stabbed and bled to death in the middle of a housing estate. I’m seeing bits of Britain which I wouldn’t otherwise see.

“We [MPs] spend our time either in our constituencies or in Westminster. So if you represent a suburban seat you become an expert on suburban areas. What’s been liberating for me is realising just how different Britain is. My understanding of poverty in Cumbria is completely different to what you would see on a housing estate in the middle of London.”

Stewart is Secretary of State for International Development. His time in the Cabinet will almost certainly end if Boris Johnson is elected Tory leader. Stewart denied that returning to the backbenches would be difficult after the past few weeks.

“I think it would be a privilege. Because what I actually really love now about politics is meeting people and talking to them. Much more than sitting in a fancy office.”

Stewart’s fate appeared sealed by what he described as his “lacklustre” performance in the BBC1 candidates’ debate. Was it depressing that so much attention focused on his decision to remove his tie?

“I think what’s more depressing in that debate was that we never got to ask any serious questions. The big question is ‘how?’ And nobody has the patience for how. How are you going to get a new deal from Europe? How are you going to get Brexit through Parliament? These are not very complicated questions. But nobody’s really got the patience to answer them.”

Did the leadership debate teach him anything about himself? “Yes. I need to talk less and listen more.”

Despite the bruises, Stewart said he would consider standing as party leader again. “I believe there is so much potential in this country that we haven’t tapped. I started in this race reluctantly. I wanted my colleagues to make the case against a no-deal Brexit. None of them were prepared to do it. Eventually I stood up and said ‘Ok, I’ll do it.’ If we’re back in this situation again and there’s something I believe in that nobody’s saying, I’ll say it.”

The crowd at The Quiet Site was less boisterous than those at Stewart’s rallies. It consisted largely of people with a link to the business. Here, though, there was also support.

Mathew Gates is a builder from Penrith. He said of Stewart’s departure from the leadership contest: “It’s a shame. He could have been a good Prime Minister. He gets things done. Kids’ play areas and stuff like that. That’s why he’s popular round here.”

Anne Holder is married to The Quiet Site’s owner, Daniel Holder. She said of Stewart: “I really like him. He’s a good people person. Quite down to earth. He looks out for farmers and the countryside, and the environment.”

A potential Prime Minister? “Maybe it’s a bit too early for him. Maybe next time.”

Peter Ratcliffe from Newbiggin predicts a bright future. “I’d like to think he might be the next Prime Minister after Boris Johnson. I think he’s what the Conservatives need. They need some new blood.”

As long as that decision is made by Tory MPs and party members, Stewart’s appeal in the wider world has little significance. Peter Ratcliffe is among those who see someone very different from most politicians. “I thought he might parachute in,” said Peter. “That would be impressive.”