Has Conservative candidate Margot James been breaking the law?

The BBC reports:

The Electoral Commission will be asked whether a Conservative Vice Chair has broken the law in the marginal constituency she is contesting at the next election.

Margot James is the Conservative candidate in Stourbridge – one of the most marginal seats in the country.

The seat’s current Labour MP, Lynda Waltho, is to ask the Electoral Commission for clarification of the law on “treating”.

At issue is whether Ms James might have committed an offence by hosting a lunch for a group of pensioners at her constituency home and some receptions for the local Muslim community.

I don’t know more about the case than is in the BBC report, but it does seem odd that it is the Electoral Commission rather than the police that is being asked to intervene on a question of alleged electoral abuse that falls outside the EC’s regulatory areas of finance and returns.

However, regardless of who does look at the case this could be good news for the rest of us as the law around treating is important but arcane, unclear and often reliant on very dated case law. As a result people often take an ultra-cautious approach what has the merits of simplicity and clarity but does cause practical problems at times.

Given that by Margot James’s own admission she spent around £10 per head on giving people food, many of whom were her constituents, this looks likely to be a test case that gets to the heart of how much food and drink can be provided to people without counting as treating.

A modern test case could be tough on those involved, especially if someone is investigated and cleared, but also provide useful clarity for the rest of us.

UPDATE: Lynda Waltho MP in a comment below has said that some of the information in the BBC report is wrong.

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