Tim Farron denies his Christian faith will scupper bid to lead Liberal Democrats

Tim Farron is the bfavourite to be the next Liberal Democrat leader.Reuters

Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has denied claims that his Christian faith could scupper his attempts to become party leader.

Farron is one of two candidates to succeed former leader Nick Clegg, who resigned after the party's near-wipeout in the General Election. The Lib Dems lost 48 of their 56 members of Parliament after voters took revenge for their years in coalition with the Conservatives.

Farron has been criticised for trying to block measures aimed at combating discrimination against gay people and abstaining in a vote on gay marriage. However, speaking to the Daily Mirror, he said: "Can a Christian lead a liberal party? The answer is, 'To ask that question is to misunderstand liberalism'," he said.

"We are currently mourning the most successful leader of our party in living memory, who was a Christian – Charles Kennedy. His example is the model I would follow, where your personal morality, your private faith is just that.

"Charles never imposed his faith on the party. Having said that, it absolutely drove him."

Farron denied feeling "persecuted" for his Christianity, saying: "I don't go around feeling persecuted. "My job is not to go around getting cross about these things."

He said that his faith had motivated him to oppose tripling tuition fees for students when the Liberal Democrats entered a coalition with the Tories. The party had previously pledged to oppose this and its switch is what did most to damage its popularity and credibility.

Farron told the Mirror: "The issue where my faith most impinged on my political activity in the last five years was tuition fees; you make a promise, you flipping keep it." For him, it "was never about fees, it was about trust".

His supporters had told him that only he could "slay the ghost of tuition fees" and ensure Lib Dems "earn the right to be heard again", he said.

He is opposed for the leadership by Norman Lamb, with whom he disagrees about assisted dying. Lamb is a supporter, but Farron, whose mother died of ovarian cancer aged only 54, believes the case for it is unproven.

"The compassion I feel for people who go through those circumstances is pretty strong to say the least. But I think the case for legalising (assisted dying) is very weak," he said.

"We need to invest the time and energy we have into making people's lives comfortable, better and fulfilled, not seeking to end them."