THE Liberal Democrat picked to challenge Oxford East Labour MP Andrew Smith next year said the party can snatch his seat after 27 years.

Engineer Mark Mann, 33, was selected as the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate on Saturday by party members.

Despite the Lib Dems facing criticism for their part in the coalition and taking a beating in elections, Dr Mann is optimistic.

In 2010 Mr Smith held his seat with 21,938 votes, or 42.5 per cent against second place Lib Dem Stephen Goddard, who polled 17,357 or 33.6 per cent.

Conservative Edward Agar took 9,727 votes or 18.9 per cent. Father-of-two Dr Mann said: “Clearly we have had a few setbacks in the council elections recently but I hope to bring the local party back up again.

“What the Lib Dems have struggled with is to get their message out about achievements that have been made during the coalition.”

He pointed to next month’s rise in the tax free allownace from £9,440 to £10,000, free meals for all infant school pupils from September and an extra £1.25bn for schools last year under its “pupil premium”.

He added: “Yes, we have had to make some compromises but the top of our list is raising the income tax threshold again which will have a big impact on the people of East Oxford.”

Dr Mann is an engineer for the research and development team at the BBC in Salford, and will move to Oxford ahead of a transfer to London.

He said: “It is a fresh approach at getting things done.

“Some of the feedback from Andrew’s constituents is that he gives a lot of responses to people but nothing really changes.

“While he has been an MP for Oxford East the gap between rich and poor has widened and Lib Dem policies will tackle that.”

Mr Smith replied that he welcomed Dr Mann as an opponent and looks forward to a constructive and clean campaign.

He said: “I will as ever work very hard, as I do at each election, to earn a victory and to retain the trust of my constituents.

“In my time there have been wonderful new hospitals built, we have saved the car plant, one of the best businesses in the world, there have been big expansions at both universities, as well as in teaching and research.

“There is still more to do but Oxford has changed a lot in my years as MP and we have got to keep Oxford economically successful.

“Anyone who doesn’t think there has been much change doesn’t know Oxford very well.”

At the 2005 poll Labour had 36.9 per cent to the Lib Dems’ 34.6 per cent and this was 49.4 per cent to 23.4 per cent in 2001 and 56.8 per cent to 14.78 per cent in 1997.

Oxford East Liberal Democrat chairman Tim Bearder said: “After 27 years of life under Mr Smith I think the people of East Oxford are ready for a change and Dr Mark Mann offers a real vibrant alternative.

“With physics teacher Layla Moran working incredibly hard to take back the marginal seat of Oxford West & Abingdon, city residents have the opportunity to elect two young, talented science graduates dedicated to delivering a stronger economy and fairer society for the people of this vibrant international city.”

s Dr Clive Peedell is to stand for the National Health Action Party against Prime Minister David Cameron in Witney. Labour’s Duncan Enright will also stand there.