Can Labour MP Barbara Roche win a fourth straight election victory, or could it be third time lucky for challenger Lynne Featherstone?

The Liberal Democrats' parliamentary candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green has twice lost at the polls against Mrs Roche, but thinks next time a general election is widely expected in May will be different.

The signs certainly seem better for the Muswell Hill councillor this time around as she tries to overturn Mrs Roche's majority of 10,614 votes.

The Lib Dems have taken the west of Haringey by storm, increasing their number of borough councillors from three to 15 at the 2002 local elections.

Last year, the party won a hat-trick of by-election victories, including the traditionally Labour ward of Stroud Green. The Lib Dems hope that a combination of their local strength and dissatisfaction with the Labour Government will persuade voters to back them.

"We do need a swing, but we will pip her at the post," said Ms Featherstone.

Neil Williams, Haringey's Lib Dem leader, added: "We have the second smallest Labour majority to overturn, and we are the party's top target seat from Labour in London.

"In the Greater London Authority elections we polled the most votes, we are well ahead in the west part of the borough, and snapping on Labour's heels in Wood Green."

After nine years' hard campaigning on local issues such as reopening Muswell Hill police station front counter Ms Featherstone rates her chances, which she feels are further boosted by her regional profile as a Greater London Authority member.

"For those voters disaffected with Labour, I hope I'm the obvious candidate. I think we will get a lot of Labour voters.

"They will feel safe to vote Liberal Democrat here we are not strangers because of our work in Hornsey and Wood Green to send a protest to the Government."

However, Mrs Roche is quietly confident she can retain the seat she won from the Tories back in 1992. She admits there have been difficult issues in the Labour Government's second term of office such as the war in Iraq but expects voters to judge her and the Government on its record as a whole.

"I hope people will judge me on my record since 1992. I am the most accessible MP in London, holding 12 surgeries a month across the constituency more than anyone else. I have seen what the Labour Government has done for the people of Hornsey and Wood Green such as investment in local schools and hospitals and am proud of what has been achieved."

The former minister is known as a fiercely loyal Labour MP, who has only rebelled against the Government in four out of 1570 votes.

As for the threat posed by the Lib Dems, she said: "We have heard Lib Dem boasts before. It's one thing to vote in local elections which do not change who's in overall power locally, but it's very different when you vote for a government.

"Things are different on the national scene and the Lib Dems have to come clean about what their policies are.

"I'm never complacent. Whenever there's an election and whatever the majority, I will fight extremely hard, and take it very seriously."

But the Lib Dems say all is not well in the Labour grass-roots party organisation, with members squabbling among themselves over unpopular Government policies such as tuition fees and tube privatisation.

A minority of Hornsey and Wood Green Parliamentary Labour Party members last year even began murmuring about having the chance to reselect another candidate.

But Labour refute claims of disharmony, and point to the strength of the local organisation which, with more than 1,000 members, is one of the largest parliamentary Labour constituencies in the country.

The Conservatives have no councillors in Haringey, and are expected to finish a distant third in the election.

Hornsey and Wood Green Conservative party activist Peter Forrest admits it's a two-horse race. "This election is a desperately keen fight between Featherstone and Roche, and what happens to the Conservative vote will be absolutely crucial.

"The Lib Dems have done well in by-elections, but have a much tougher fight on their hands in the general election. Barbara Roche is a popular, hard-working MP."

The Tories will select a parliamentary candidate on February 14 to fight the seat.

"We will be telling people that a vote for the Lib Dems a third party which cannot form a government is a wasted vote," Mr Forrest said.

"This is make or break for Featherstone's parliamentary ambitions."