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The London Marathon shows London is a 'Tale of Two Cities'

I'm running for those Londoners being denied the chance to share in our city’s successes.

It’s that time of year again. Twitter feeds and Facebook pages are a sea of "justgiving" requests. Families from Greenwich to Tower Hamlets are busy painting "good luck" signs and stocking up on jelly babies. And come Sunday morning, over 650,000 people will head down to watch the biggest mass participation race in the world – the London Marathon. Like many Londoners, it’s one of my favourite days of the year. But this year things are a little different for me. I’m running!

The London Marathon epitomises everything that is great about the city that has been the backdrop of my life, and, like millions of Londoners, has made me the person I am today. Along the 26.2 mile route I’ll be passing through six different London boroughs. From the high streets of Deptford and Woolwich, to weaving my way between Canary Wharf skyscrapers and then on to the Embankment, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, my route on Sunday will most definitely be one of contrasts.

The same of course, can be said for our city. Growing up on the Henry Prince estate in Tooting, times could be tough in the Khan household. Having come to London in the 1960s, my bus driver Dad never dreamed I would grow up to run my own law firm, let alone be elected as an MP for the community I grew up in. But my family story sums up what London is all about; countless opportunities to make a better life for you and your family provided you work hard and get on. In the London Marathon’s 33rd year, I wonder if that is still the same today.

Today’s London is a city facing big challenges. Rising numbers of Londoners are being left behind by our city’s success as inequality widens and poverty grows. The story of our city is in real danger of becoming "a tale of two cities". And those Londoners who are being denied the chance to share in our city’s successes? That’s who I am running for this Sunday.

When I was asked to join the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund team by my friend David Cohen, I tried to come up with an alibi, any alibi to get me off the hook. The furthest I’d ever run was an out-of-breath 10 kilometres around Tooting Common and my Mars bar addiction didn’t make me the best candidate! But once David told me about the work the charity does to tackle poverty and inequality across London, I couldn’t say no.

Through its funding of over 700 organisations across London, the Dispossessed Fund has now touched the lives of more than 100,000 Londoners. And in the last two months I’ve had the privilege to meet many of them. As I make my way through south London on Sunday I’ll be thinking of young brothers Zack and Kamil, whose parents fled war-torn Somalia and are now being given every opportunity through the brilliant Klevis Kola Foundation. As I running through Greenwich, I’ll be thinking of Lorraine, Lana and Debbie, just some of the "MP’s team" ensuring the views of those with learning disabilities are heard through their work with Advocacy in Greenwich. And as I make my way through Poplar, the smart, switched on kids like Muhin and Mizanur being supported by Streets of Growth to live normal teenage lives, free of gang violence and intimidation.

So come Sunday, that’s what I’ll be running for - London. Knowing the money I have raised so far means the Dispossessed Fund can help even more people like Zack, Lana and Muhin will be a real boost to keep going. But the 35,000 runners and I, the majority of whom are running for fantastic charities and causes, need your support to cheer us around the course. Let’s get out there and do what we do best London. Because despite the challenges we face, London isn’t broken. Far from it. The marathon is our annual opportunity to celebrate that community spirit we showed during the Olympics – and that Londoners are capable of wonderful achievements when united by common ambitions.

You can follow Sadiq’s progress on Twitter at @SadiqKhan and #YesWeKhan and support the Dispossessed Fund at virginmoneygiving.com/SadiqKhan

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
Ellie Foreman-Peck
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Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit