David Seymour's odd comments on confidence and supply
Recent comments by ACT Party leader David Seymour about a potential "confidence-only" partnership with the National Party are a bit strange.
In the Westminster tradition, the concepts of “confidence” and “supply” are closely intertwined. Confidence refers to the governing party's ability to retain the support of the majority of MPs. Supply refers to the government's ability to secure parliamentary approval for its budgetary measures.
Both two elements - together - form the essence of a functioning government under the Westminster system.
Seymour's suggestion comes in the context of National rejecting several ACT policies. We should therefore see his as a strategic threat to ensure that the ACT's leverage is maximised. However, the separation of confidence and supply would be quite challenging in practice given their inherent interconnectedness.
The government's ability to command confidence is often judged by its ability to pass its budget, which is a supply issue. If a government fails to secure supply, it is usually seen as a loss of confidence, leading to the government's fall. Votes on supply are, therefore, a form of confidence vote.
Does this mean the term “confidence and supply” is a bit redundant. Yes. But somewhat redundant couplets are used in the English language all the time. Think "safe and sound," "cease and desist," and "aid and abet". All of these communicate a single idea through closely related terms.
So what is Seymour on about? Assuming he does understand what “confidence” and “supply” mean, his comments the concept of a "confidence-only" agreement would be pretty novel, is not entirely unfeasible. It would involve some kind of redefinition of our understanding of confidence and supply in the system.
But that only gets you so far. If Seymour is genuinely considering withholding supply it raises questions about any simultaneous promise of confidence because withholding one inevitably impacts the other. They are just too intertwined at a conceptual level.
It’s hard not to see it as a bit of a bluff.