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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.
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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue