Party or Country first
If you believe that duty to your country comes before duty to your party, then the coalition government was right to offer roles to Frank Field, John Hutton, and now Alan Milburn, and they were right to accept.
One of the things that many members of the public most hate about politics is the way that a "yah-boo-sucks" and "Not invented here" attitude keeps the talented people whose party doesn't happen to be in power from offering ideas to benefit the country. Anyone who has spent much time on the doorstep has regularly heard complaints from voters who do not like the bickering between parties and say things like "They all ought to get together and sort it out."
Of course it's not that simple, and people who strongly disagree with the direction a government is taking may have good reasons not to be able to serve, or be offered places in, that government.
But there are sometimes advisory roles where someone who is not a supporter of a government can nevertheless provide an input which may be - and this is the key point - in the interests of the country. I believe that the jobs which have been offered to Frank Field, John Hutton, and Alan Milburn come into that category.
I would not have thought it possible to write this, but the comments which John Precott has made on this subject accusing them of being "collaborators" has caused my opinion of him to sink even lower.
Prescott was probably the worst minister in the last government - and considering that it also included ministers like Frank Dobson, Margaret Beckett, and Stephen Byers, that really is saying something. But his use of words like "collaborator" for members of his party who think there might be a benefit to the country of working with what is, whether he likes it or not, the elected government demonstrates a truly unpleasant degree of sectarianism.
The worst fault of the last government was a strong propensity to put party before country. Prescott demonstrates that at least some of them have not learned this lesson in opposition. And until Labour does learn this lesson, they will not again be fit to be serious contenders for power.