People who pursue political power often find it is an illusion. Here is how it work in my country, the names are different, but the roles are similar in other countries.

Members of Parliament

Members of Parliament have very little power and influence. They have to vote in the way that their party tells them to vote.

If they want to get ahead, they need to compromise, do deals, and support proposals they do not like for the sake of party unity. They go along to get on. By the time they get to a position of power or responsibility, they are usually so compromised that they cannot go back to the way that they were when they started.

Most MPs want to become cabinet minister, because they assume that this will bring them real power. Unfortunately, it does not. They do not get to choose their portfolios. They get the one they given, not the one they might want or the place where they want to have an influence.

Cabinet Ministers

Cabinet ministers cannot do as much as they will have hoped. They have to get the government departments that support their portfolios to do things. That is not easy. The Chief Executives (CE) of Government departments are skilful operators. They have got to where they are by moving up through the ranks of the public service. They rise to the top by managing their careers to be in the right place at the right time. They know how to overcome opposition and manipulate the system to get their way. They know how to deal with people who oppose their plans.

When a new Cabinet Minister arrives, the CE will put all these finely-tuned skills into managing them and setting them on the right path. They will provide the Cabinet Minister with Briefing Notes that explain all the issues, describe the problems, and tells them what needs to be done. The CE knows far more about the situation than the minister, so it is hard for him/her not to be co-opted to working for the goals and objectives of the government department. The new minister's plans and dreams will be overwhelmed.

To get a proposal through the cabinet, a minster has to get his department to prepare a cabinet paper. This os a slow, complicated process that the minister cannot do themselves. They have to get the staff of the government department that they are responsible for to prepare the paper on their behalf. Once a draft is prepared, it is circulated around all the other government departments that would be affected by the change. They will make changes and amendments to the paper. By the time that the cabinet paper is through the review process and finalised ready to present to the cabinet, it may have changed significantly from the original idea. All papers have to go to the Treasury, and they can kill an idea by saying there is no money.

The stated aim of the review process is to ensure the development of good policy. However, it can also be used to obstruct the "foolish ideas" of cabinet ministers. Government departments are very skilled in obstructing things that they do not want to do. They can let them lie around for so long that they die.

This explains why some new government fail to fulfil their election promises. To implement their manifestos, they need the support of the public service. If the leaders of the public service are not supportive, the plans of the politicians will go nowhere.

If the CE does not like the ideas of the cabinet, the minister will struggle to get it through. The CE will ensure that the opposition to the idea is organised to prevent the cabinet paper from going the distance.

Cabinet Ministers are new to their portfolios. They will usually know very little about their portfolio before they come to it. In contrast, the CE and senior staff of the department will have a detailed knowledge of the area. The cabinet minister will often be dependent on them for a detailed explanation of the issues.

The other power that the CE has in their arsenal is to give the cabinet lots of complicated, detailed papers to read. This can often overwhelm them and shake their confidence in their own views.

Cabinet ministers often find themselves as servants of the public service, pushing their ideas, rather than the other way around.

Prime Minister

Many cabinet ministers would like to become the Prime Minister. They believe that this would give them real power. Unfortunately, the prime minister has far less power than they expect. The Prime Minister does not have a government department to carry out their wishes. They have assigned all of them out to the members of their cabinet. They depend on them to carry out the party's political promises.

A few cabinet ministers will be really effective and get their plans implemented. A few will be incompetent, and the rest will be mediocre, because they have been given a task they have never done before. The inevitable consequence is that most of the party's plans do not get implemented.

The main thing the Prime Minister has to do is to identify early the cabinet ministers that are incompetent, and get rid of them before they do too much harm. They have to watch for disasters emerging and shut them down before they get out of control.

The other task that the Prime Minister has to do is to communicate to the public and explain to them what the government is doing. They have to be doing this constantly ready for the next election. Prime Ministers cannot do things themselves. They have to persuade others to do the things they want done. That is not easy.

Public Service

They are called public servants, but the people who staff government departments are usually more devoted to advancing their own careers than doing what is best for the people of the nation.

The big problem is that the public service is the home of many mediocre people. They are often incapable of doing the tasks that they are responsible for. Really skilful people are often shut down or squeezed out because other people are threatened by them. This means that government departments often fail to carry out the wishes of the minster, even if they support them. Things go wrong with the process, and by the time the problems are sorted out, it is too late.

This creates a huge problem. The public service is the most powerful part of the political/government system. They are also the most incompetent. The people who rise to the top are often the people who know how to grease those above him. Those who challenge bad ideas find themselves being side-lined.

The result is that modern democracy is often government by the mediocre.