KEITH NEWBERY Miliband manages to claim the moral highground as Cameron flounders

Ed Miliband returned to his office after PMQs this week with mud on his knees, a sheen of sweat on his forehead and a big smile on his face.

He had just gone head-to-head with David Cameron in the race for the moral high-ground over the phone-hacking scandal – and left his rival scrabbling and snorting in his wake.

Miliband pitched his attack perfectly and to begin with there was an air of mutual commiseration between the two party leaders.

They shared murmurs of sorrow and regret laced with pain and indignation over the egregious accusations swamping News International and its leading figures.

It was only when Miliband uttered the dreaded words ‘Andy Coulson’ that Cameron realised he had stumbled into an ambush.

By then it was too late. His familiar smirk dissipated and his eyes flickered nervously when the Labour leader called for Rebekah Brooks’ resignation.

This was dangerous territory.

Brooks is chief executive of News International, was editor of the News of the World when Millie Dowler’s phone was hacked, is up to her Titian curls in the tide of sewage – and is a big buddy of the Camerons.

The prime minister suddenly found himself tainted by association – and Miliband was high above on the plateau of moral probity waving down at him.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have been dancing a dangerous fandango with Rupert Murdoch since 1992 – and it was only a matter of time before one of them got tripped up.

When the music stopped, it was Cameron who found himself totally compromised and in an invidious position.

Does he jettison his friends at News International and risk the inevitable backlash, or does he protect their backs and forsake his much-vaunted commitment to clean politics?

Miliband, meanwhile, has nothing to lose. He can continue to make his rival’s life as difficult as possible, while tip-toeing piously through the Murdoch cesspit.

At least one positive will emerge from this malodorous affair.

British prime ministers will no longer be so anxious to prostrate themselves before Murdoch in a bid to win his support at the next general election.

He and his newspapers will be associated forever with one of the most loathsome episodes in the history of British media.

Murdoch’s days as king-maker are over.