RORY Stewart’s new political ambition was born after he crashed out of his party’s leadership race - and began a walking tour of Scotland and the north east.

On a bright August morning, the Penrith and the Border MP used his phone to video his personal investigation of homelessness in Glasgow.

He filmed in a bleak patch of woodland near the city centre, the ground strewn with discarded hypodermic needles. “A lot of homelessness in Glasgow is, of course, related to addiction,” he said.

Another video showed the MP at the site with charity workers, who casually explained how addicts gathered there to “cook” cocaine and heroin.

In the following days, the MP posted more videos, exposing the normally hidden tragedies of poverty, homelessness, addiction: a story at odds with the Conservative Party narrative of a UK filled with optimism, fuelled by economic growth and better living standards.

So perhaps nobody should be surprised that Rory Stewart - the Tory outsider with his sights set on 10 Downing Street - now wants to be Mayor of London.

In a exclusive News & Star interview, Mr Stewart spoke of how his northern odyssey shaped his political ambition and led him south to London, and his bid for the job once done by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“That walk had a huge influence on me,” said Mr Stewart, who has also toured deprived communities in the north east. “I realised how extreme some of the problems Britain is facing are; I’d never witnessed scenes like that in Penrith and the Border.

“In Glasgow, there was a half-acre site, covered in discarded heroin needles; in Hartlepool, a foodbank, and a terrific number of people with a range of mental health needs; and at Easington, almost the entire place was full of unemployed people.

“In the lower half of the town, almost everyone seemed to be an addict.

“As an MP, I focused on Cumbria and Cumbrian issues. Cumbria has real needs - often things related to distance and transport, and broadband. But I never saw the scale of human misery in Cumbria I saw on that journey.”

In recent weeks, said Mr Stewart, he had been increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the Conservative Party, from which he and 20 colleagues were expelled after backing legislation to block a no-deal Brexit.

“Our politics has become increasingly divisive and extreme,” he said.

“It’s become about pitting one group against another; the idea of us against them; Brexit against remain. Parties seem to operate by excluding one half of the population.”

He has become convinced that people now want a political centre-ground.

A one-nation Conservative, he said he had tried as an MP to be as non-party political as possible, focused on representing constituents.

The second thing that shaped his ambition was that remarkable first day back in the Commons after the unlawful prorogation - Wednesday, September 25 - a day of astonishingly bad-tempered exchanges that made Brexit compromise seem impossible.

Mr Stewart said: “Boris came back, talking about the Supreme Court ruling and he was being aggressive; the Labour Party were being aggressive. The whole thing became a gothic shouting match. I really thought that this is not the way to run a country.

“It seemed so undignified and aggressive.

“I came up to Cumbria after that and heard constituents say: ‘Why were you not clapping, and just sitting on the back benches looking detached. You need to show more loyalty’. But I really don’t want to see politics looking like football terraces.

“I thought the House of Commons was a dignified place, which represents a country which believes in dignity and compromise, and doing things quietly and modestly.”

UK politics had become brash, he said.

The MP spoke of his love of British history and British, a politics embedded in communities such as rural farming communities in far-flung Cumbria; and British institutions, including the British armed forces.

“I believe we need to emphasise compassion; and responsibility towards our poorest people in society and we need to make sure people can live with dignity.”

Before becoming an MP, Mr Stewart completed the most dangerous project of his life: a 36-day walk across Afghanistan. With the Taliban recently defeated, the country was awash with weapons and mistrust.

It was a journey was fraught with danger. It seems Rory Stewart has walked into yet another chapter in his political life.