Gordon Brown ends this week with a potentially awkward appearance in front of the Iraq inquiry, but begins the month of March in a more comfortable political position than he could have imagined.

Mr Brown will face questioning about his role in the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003 and whether he – as chancellor – gave the army the money it needed for the military occupation that followed.

The prime minister’s appearance before Sir John Chilcot’s panel is one of the obstacles lying in front of the prime minister ahead of the election, but is now viewed with more equanimity in Downing Street. The prime minister has somehow in recent weeks acquired something of a Teflon quality, having spent much of his preceding two years as prime minister seemingly attracting political problems.

Mr Brown’s team had spent weeks fretting about possible revelations in a book by Andrew Rawnsley, the political journalist, about his alleged bullying behaviour.

But these allegations – and the claim last week by Alistair Darling, chancellor, that Number 10 “unleashed the forces of hell” against him in 2008 – appear to have caused the prime minister little damage.

Mr Brown joked at the Welsh conference on Saturday: “The only thing I haven’t been accused of recently is killing Archie Mitchell in EastEnders. For the press here: I promise you, I didn’t even lay a finger on him.”

The YouGov poll in this weekend’s Sunday Times suggests that Mr Brown still has a chance of winning the election and that on key indicators on leadership qualities he is ahead of Mr Cameron.

Although voters think that Mr Cameron is a more suitable character than Mr Brown to run the country by 40 points to 28 points, Mr Brown is ahead on truthfulness, empathy with people’s problems and ability to raise family living standards.

The poll also shows that Labour is more trusted to run the economy than the Conservatives for the first time since July 2007, although the lead is only a single percentage point.

Mr Brown will on Monday try to maintain pressure on the Conservatives by opening up a new front on crime. In a speech in Reading, the prime minister will challenge Mr Cameron’s claim that Britain has “a broken society”.

But he will concede that the fear of crime has not fallen as quickly as crime itself, and that more work needs to be done to reduce serious crime.

“My challenge to local authorities and police authorities around the country is to match our commitment to protecting frontline policing,” he will say.

Although Mr Brown’s trip to Reading will take him past Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle – as his aides wryly note – Labour officials play down persistent rumours he is about to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament ahead of an early March 25 election.

Meanwhile Peter Hain, Welsh secretary, on Sunday urged Liberal Democrat supporters to vote tactically for Labour in marginal seats, arguing that the “decent, progressive majority” had to unite to prevent a Conservative victory.

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