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2 February

Why Rishi Sunak ought to beware of Prosecco Mums

As childcare, constant guilt and the cost of living bite, Xennial mothers symbolise the latest voter shift.

By Eliza Filby

Much has been made of Rishi Sunak being our first Xennial prime minister (born between 1975 and 1983). But as much as our politicians represent a generational switch of gear, it’s the voters that exemplify the real tide of change.

In 2023 another important sub-group is emerging, one that symbolises the latest societal shift. They are instantly recognisable in our workplaces, homes and social media feeds, and politicians ignore them at their peril: Prosecco Mums. They are more Hunsnet than Mumsnet; Xennial mothers who favour a certain Italian sparkling wine. One in-depth analysis of the prosecco consumer from 2018 identified that 41 per cent were graduates, 81 per cent lived with their partner or children and the majority, 52 per cent, lived in the south of England.

Crucially, the rise of prosecco coincided with the 2008 financial crisis when it was marketed as a cheap but perfectly acceptable alternative to champagne. It was “bougie on a budget” and appealed to the Xennial demographic trying to enjoy their adulthood just as the world entered the deepest recession since the Second World War. Xennials symbolised an increasing equalisation of the sexes, a delaying of the traditional responsibilities of adulthood and greater female financial independence. The drinks companies merely sought to capitalise. As Professor Carol Emslie told the BBC, there was a “move away from sexualising women to sell alcohol to men, towards alcohol brands trying to align their products with sophistication, women’s empowerment and with female friendship”.

When these women reached motherhood, the Prosecco Mum was born. “Wine o’clock” became “Mummy’s Time Out”. As the Canadian writer Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, has surmised: “Wine has become the code for ‘I deserve it, parenting is hard, I need to decompress’.” That prosecco became about self-care and alleviating the stresses of motherhood was no great leap from how spirits and beer had been marketed to men: as a source of relaxation and reward at the end of the working day. Except of course, these women were both working and mothering and living in a 21st-century digital world in which switching off had become almost impossible. 

As much as the Prosecco Mum delights in nostalgia for her youth, her very real and legitimate frustrations cannot be ignored. The pandemic awoke her sense of injustice as she morphed into a teacher and found herself fighting for the time and space to work. The bitterness of that experience has lingered and only intensified in the cost-of-living crisis and spiralling mortgage costs. Her anger tends to resurface at the end of each month as she sees most of her wages go on childcare. She is exhausted by a flexible working model that on the surface appears more adaptable to mothering but in reality stretches her to breaking point. Not to mention the constant guilt she feels parenting in a culture that requires you to be constantly connected, stimulating and present with your child – and to post about it regularly. And, too, the sense of dread she feels when she remembers that caring for her children will soon be replaced with caring for her ageing parents in a society where there is little state provision. Prosecco Mum may not be overtly political but she is becoming more and more politicised.

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Is it any wonder then that Prosecco Mums have become more left-wing later in life? It used to be that the majority of women voted Conservative, with more men tending to vote Labour, although the gender gap was relatively small. Up until 2010 there was no major discernible difference in how men and women voted but from 2015 onwards the gap started widening, particularly because of women under 45 tending to side with Labour; 37 per cent of women voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s party in the 2019 general election compared with 29 per cent of men. That the Tories have a women’s problem is undeniable, but nor can Labour confidently claim that they have the Prosecco Mum vote in the bag (feminists being pitted against trans rights makes things especially hard for the party).

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The current leadership ought to be wary that Prosecco Mums, who grew up with girl power, are increasingly feeling powerless. Not in respect to their status or life choices – these have never been more validated – but in the practical economic and social burdens of working motherhood. This double life may have become more socially acceptable since our mothers’ day but it arguably comes with higher expectations, financial necessities and greater complications. Prosecco Mums may be increasingly independent but are also increasingly worried and therefore increasingly politically important. If Tony Blair could embody the hopes and dreams of Mondeo Man in the mid-Nineties, who today represents Prosecco Mum? As images go, neither Teetotal Dishy Rishi nor Special K Starmer really chime. Angela Rayner in the DJ booth at a gig in Manchester recently cracking out N-Trance’s “Set You Free” on the other hand? Classic Prosecco Mum vibes.

[See also: Conservatives are losing confidence in Rishi Sunak]

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